Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2012 with funding from
LYRASIS IVIembers and Sloan Foundation
DRAWINGS BY GEOFFREY HOLDER
by GEOFFREY HOLDER
with TOM HARSHMAN
DOUBLEDAY & COMPANY, INC., GABDEN CITY, NEW YORK 1059
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincideiital.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 59-12632
Copyright © 1959 by Doubleday & Company, Inc.
All Rights Reserved. Printed in the United States of America
A Goddess ... lo
In the Beginning ... 48
Revolt . . . 140-141
Brother Good, Brother Bad ... 172
Witches . . . 204
I could tell a hundred tales of the old gods, the African ones, and
of men they made into kings or heroes or creatures, at very least,
half strange, who wander through the canebrake yet— if you wish to
believe a granny or a mountain child. But how to begin, to say that
the Caribbean islands are not all calypsoes or bongo drums. Each
island has, like the old gods, a tliousand faces and no one person has
seen them all. Who can bOast that he knows all the islands, really
knows them? Who has heard all their songs or seen their secret
worship in some hut, on some goat hill, above some inlet, on such-
and-such an island? All mothers will tell a tale to hush a fretful child
and they are greatly different from the ones an ancient hag in a
hillside hut can tell. But then, everyone has a tale or two.
Where do they come from? No one knows. Certainly the African
tradition of gathering around the cook-fire at night when work is
done has mothered most of them. But Africa is long ago and her
children have learned many foreign ways, some here, some there,
over and over, until they became their own. Some of Africa is mixed
in, sometimes so subtly, but always there.
Yet when one reads the tales of the Africans there is little to
suggest that these stories are owed back there, and they shouldn't be.
The remnants of the native Indians had their ejffect— so much blood—
and the slaveholders, be they French, English, Spanish, Dutch or
Dane, have left a mark. East Indians or Syrians, Chinese or German
settlers could also hold some stock in the wealth of lore. From all
their touches let's take a few, and where better to begin than the
long ago, the time that must have been though its exact shape and
color are held down only by the limitations of the mind.
In the Beginning .
In the pale green of early morning, in a time before anyone re-
members and on an island called Trinidad, a hunter rose from a
city's bed and cursed the brown woman who lay in it. He cursed her
tribe and her city; he cursed the air, choked on pungent scents, on
perfumes and soured wines, old perspiration and spilled rum. He
cursed all memories of night's pleasures in a low mutter; it was not
his wish to wake the woman. She turned in her sleep away from
him and he left, moving silently out of the sleeping house.
"Curse them," he muttered to the open air. "Curses for their
jeweled gold, their silver. Taking. Ruining. Their glutton pleasure's
He had come to the city fresh from the forest. Slung over his
back were the soft velvet skins of the high forest: deer and otter,
raccoon and tiger cat. He brought the feathers of the emerald hum-
In the Beginning
mingbird, the white egret, the brilliant jacamar, and black shiny
tail feathers of the king corbeau.
In the market place his wares were a sensation, they brought gold
and silver coins. The market place buzzed over the stranger; great
ladies in brilliant mantles paused to look at him and through the
day more came as runners were sent forth with gossip. In his rude
clothes he was yet more handsome than the ornamented dandies
that jingled by so proudly. He was taU with the sumptuous body of
a beast. His face, black to blue, was brilliant with white teeth, inno-
cently he smiled often.
In the late afternoon the messenger of a not too yoimg princess
summoned him. He went obediently, kneeling before her. She lifted
him to his feet and her red-ochered lips smiled up at him.
It had begun there and from one fete to another he passed, from
arms to arms, for what length of time he no longer had any idea.
He had laughed and drunk his spirit empty and this morning he
had awakened fearfully in the dawn. In half sleep he heard a parrot
call; in that moment he remembered the forest and its peace.
In the first of the sun he passed out of the city's walls and still he
muttered. He had left with only his dirty white trousers and a dirtier
white jacket soiled by rum and the paints of women. On his belt
hung a sheathed knife, across his shoulder was slung a bow, and,
strung to the other shoulder, a thin packet of arrows.
Stopping beside the road, he broke from a man-ruined tree a
branch to use as a staflF; he looked back, the city lay somewhat
below him. The smoke of the first fires was rising in the bright day.
The barking of many dogs and cries of vendors and fowl came up
to him. He felt a longing for the warmth that the city had promised
but he cursed it. The spirit-sucking cityl Wrapped in skins and
feathers, it was a smifing beast lapping the blood of its young.
The hunter passed across the bank of a rice field and took the
mountain road. Laden donkeys and silent farmers passed him. Poor-
clothed, heavy-trinkleted farm girls appeared from the bush carrying
on their heads the heavy burdens of their wares. They smiled shyly
at him and joined the stream that moved down the mountain to the
city's markets. In the cane fields the songs of men worked in rhythm
with their knives; a girl, boihng a soap pot, sang against them.
By noon he had passed the crest of the mountain, and where the
road forked he turned north toward the great forest. There was no
one on the road now. The lands of people were passed and he
relaxed his march. Along the way he cut sugar cane and pulled the
brittle green skin away with his white teeth and sucked its juice.
In the bush he found late sugar apples and a ripe papaya. Through
the heat of the day he marched toward the forest.
His restless spirit urged him; he already felt in his mind the cool-
ness of the forest, peace would come again. There would be the
quickening of his blood in the hunt, nights curled by fires and the
quiet— he wanted most the quiet.
The mountain swung down into a savannah and he ran to it
joyfully. The road narrowed to a path and it ended at a mat of
head-high grasses. He skirted the savannah's edge until he found
an animal path and he entered all that green, tracking animal spoor
to find his way through.
The forest began abruptly where the savannah ended, its bounda-
ries marked by a stream. The hunter stopped and, removing his
clothes, he washed carefully. His body was splotched to his knees
and to his shoulders by the pale dust of the road; it hung on his
eyebrows and whitened his hair. He sank in the water and rose,
rubbing his body briskly until it was black again.
When the sun had dried him he piled his clothes on a rock and
placed another rock on top to secure them. He strapped his belt and
knife to his waist and, picking up his bow and the packet of arrows,
he entered the forest.
It was his intention to hunt at the forest's edge for birds and
deer. Out of habit he strung an arrow to his bow, holding it ready
by his side. The different shades of green in the forest cooled his
burning eyes and enchanted him: there, chartreuse lay over emerald;
beyond, viridian and shimmers of apple green; turquoise highlighted
against aqua, and, farther, ultramarine and Prussian blue. Overhead
In the Beginning .
there were specks of light sky but as he went farther into the forest
these rich shades of green and blue were almost black.
He traveled the animal paths and, fascinated by the beauty of
the forest, he wandered aimlessly. Never in the years before could
he remember that the forest was so beautiful. Coming as he had in
a dark frame of mind, searching for some light and doubting him-
self, he remembered against the peace of the forest the turmoil of
the city. Several times he found himself running and stopped short,
but the memories of the world outside came back; he hurried on as
if they were tracking him.
He wandered that afternoon until he fell into a dark part of the
forest. There tree trunks were huge, immense, limbs waving into a
great embrace. The trees rose big, big, big and took the forms of
being in the half-hght. In their tops a wind was rushing and it gave
them voices. Kiaa, Kiaa, Kiaa, they called. The hunter stumbled
over dark roots and fell; the sharp thump of his fall pulled him back
from memory. He looked around fearfully. Pale giant ferns stood
among the trees like tattered spirits; in this night world glowing
beetles embarked across the heavy air and vines were ahve with the
darting eyes of tiny lizards. Dew dripping from the trees fell as his
own tears: he realized that he was lost.
Not one animal had appeared, no bird called in the trees, and he
remembered that none had since he had entered the forest. It seemed
for a moment that he heard the flap of wings, but wherever he
looked only dark leaves fluttered.
He lifted himself to his feet; ahead he saw some pale light beyond
the trees and he headed toward that place. Tie-tie vines blocked his
path and he hacked at them with his knife. Eventually he broke
through to a path that wound among the rubble of discarded
branches and the mounds of a century of fallen leaves. Holding his
bow closely, he picked his way through until he reached a red earth
path. Following it, he heard ahead the murmur of a stream and
when he reached it he dropped to his knees, plunged his face in,
and drank of the clear water. While drinking he heard the slopping
of another creature and, looking up, he was faced, eye to eye, with
She was startled at the sight of this smooth black creature. She
reared and, bounding away, she fell from the bank. She pitched
crookedly, breaking the still water, and in great panic she found
herself sinking. A parrot in the thicket screeched, "Giondal Giondal"
The deer bleated in answer.
Amazed by the sudden appearance of the deer, her panic and
struggle in the water, the hunter leaped in after her. He swam to
her side and, gripping her throat in the crook of his arm, he pulled
and thrashed toward shore. The tail of a snake lashed the water near
him. For a moment he saw the creature, its teeth clamped to a root
and its thin body sti'etching out toward them. The hunter dragged
the deer sharply downstream and pulled her onto the shore.
The life was saved. The parrot reported it; the owl watched. The
snake angrily lashed back to land, too mad that her tail was not long
enough to help the deer. The snake sucked her teeth. The birds
chirped for joy. The parrot giggled. Music was created by these
sounds in rhythm to the foreign sound of the snake.
The deer continued to struggle in the intruder's arms. She squirmed,
she screamed, and sprang out of his clutches, up over a fallen tree.
She bounded down paths and byways that she knew instinctively.
She passed by quiet pools, sought out almost hidden openings in
black tangles of growth as she headed deeper into the forest.
Snatching up his bow, the hunter followed as fast as he could,
but she had disappeared in green solitude. He followed her spoor
until it came to a pool and, search as he would, he found no tracks
out. Impatiently he took paths by chance and each path presented
Exhausted, the hunter stopped to rest beneath a flaming immor-
telle tree. A small clearing lay before him, the forest around branched
over it, blocking out all but small patches of sky. An owl shuddered
its cry, a parrot cackled, but he couldn't sight tliem anywhere in
the trees. The forest returned to its stillness.
A chill of fear passed over him. He sensed in the thick air that
In the Beginning .
he was in some forbidden place. He got up and bowed to the im-
mortelle tree, for he knew it was one of the holy trees in which gods
and immortals are known to live. Crouching, he drummed the earth
with his hands and bowed again. "Holy tree, if I trespass on sacred
land, show me the way out. Give me your sign."
The tree was silent. A wind rustled in its top but there was no
sign for the hunter. He rested and as he lay looking up at the tree
its fire flowers slowly purpled until they were black and it was
He rose and tended to his bed. From the bush around the clearing
he pulled dead leaves and piled them until he could cover himself.
Curling in this nest, he sought sleep. The sounds of the forest ebbed
away until only the occasional cry of a fitful bird broke the quiet.
Here was his peace, a time of quiet between the active day and
the emergence of night animals, when the wind was still and the
only movement was the onrush of night.
Through the black mesh of trees and vine he occasionally saw a
cold white star. The damp of night and insistent memories chilled
him. He saw again, in his mind, his image dancing in the city's
fetes, a drunken buffoon. As in the city, he felt what little bone-and-
guUet warmth there was in the world. He thought of fire but he
didn't dare it. He thought of his warm clothes left behind and his
mind led him to the events of the day.
He wondered about all the strange things he had done and seen.
Neither as boy nor as man had he ventured so deep into the forest
and never had he seen it as it was this day. The animals and birds
that never appeared— except that rush of them at the pool. The
beautiful deerl Nothing had felt right; nothing was familiar. He
was lost, and yet suddenly he found no fear in his heart.
The sound of humming broke into his thoughts. He sat up and
cocked his ear, trying to place it in the dark trees. It was near,
above him, in the immortelle tree. He leaped to his feet and the
The hunter pounded the trunk of the tree. "Good one, give me
a sign." A voice, childlike, singsonged:
In the Beginning . .
"When summers fawn is found
In winter man finds summer^
hut once summers found, winter comes
and onhj then is summer found.
And there you wander round and round."
The hunter listened closely but he could not discover a meaning
in the words. "Give me a sign," he shouted.
The voice laughed and a wind shook the tree. Blossoms fell upon
him and the tree was quiet. The forest was still.
The hunter sat down and, looking up distrustfully, he tried again
to find a sign in the words. There was none. "Then I will stay," he
muttered, and, lying down, he fell asleep.
He held onto sleep fitfully. It came with patches of dreams, with
sudden starts when the sounds of night creatures began in the forest
around him. He woke at one point to see a group of fireflies mass
into a ball, then drift and disperse into the bush. Was it a devil? A
soucouyan? A bird known as the poor-me-one mourned itself in the
dark trees and the hunter caught sleep again.
He dreamed of times that had been, of various smiles, promising
words falling from red-rouged lips, of good hunts, and the rich spoils
of feathers and skins. He dieamed of times that would never be, of
thrones, of loves, and black rivers yielding gold.
For warmth he curled his body into itself and, half asleep, he
angrily grasped for more leaves. The movements of a large animal,
the breaking of twigs and the swish of branches bent and passed,
woke him fully. He got up and stood by the tree, holding his bow
ready. But the sound ceased. He waited for a while, and then, stand-
ing his bow against the tree, he lay down on the dead leaves.
Whether it was a dream or not he didn't know. Before him he
saw, as twin stars, two lights in the dark. They moved together,
swinging in arcs with sudden stops. He sat up and they fled, then
reappeared before him. It seemed as if with some quick thrust he
could seize them in his hand, but he knew stars were fire and he
contented himself with watching tliem.
But as he watched he heard again the sucking of teeth and re-
membered the snake. While waiting for the creature to attack he
inched his hand slowly to his knife. There was another tussle in the
bushes, then a third. As the star-eyes raised three feet, with knife
clasped and his eyes darting in all directions, another creature
leaped before him. An owl screeched. A parrot laughed. The star-
eyes pitched. The snake giggled. Soft against his face he felt the
muzzle of a beast.
With one hand holding high the knife he touched the face of the
creature with the other. "It's me, Gionda . . . only me."
The hunter remembered the cry of the parrot screeching the sound,
Gionda, Gionda. He remembered the deer bleating. He let the knife
fall. He found too many words to speak and spoke none.
"Don't you be afraid, you're protected here. Oxoto, the owl, he
watches you through the night, and the parrot, Balei-ji, tells where you
go— and that snake, Voum-voom, she's only teasing."
The hunter lay back and snorted his distaste.
"Oh now," the voice chided, "that Voum-voom's qmte nice. Since
she left Eden she's changed and I do say, she's quite helpful, too."
The hunter found his tongue, "You didn't speak before . . ."
"No. No, I ran away for no exact reason. You appeared so sud-
denly I didn't for a moment realize that you were real and I
certainly didn't know what manner of creature you might be. First
thing I thought was man! There's a creature that lives outside the
forest called that. We guard very carefully against them. They're a
strange pack. They come restless from their world into ours and they
interrupt the peace. I've seen their work— so many times I've seen
what they do to the creatures here."
The hunter shivered and moved away from the deer, feeling for
his lost knife.
"Don't be afraid. I'll protect you," she said.
"I'm not afraid! . . . I'm cold."
Kneeling beside him, the deer nuzzled and warmed him. He
timidly fondled the soft silky tliroat and felt warm.
"What creature are you?"
In the Beginning
"Me? . . . Oh, Gionda, Tm just a lonely nameless beast. I was lost
in the world of men once, but this minute, it was centuries ago.**
"You have no name?"
"No," he replied, and he felt in his heart that he had spoken the
The deer questioned him no more and, warm, he happily dozed,
then slept, and, wakening, watched the day grow in the top of the
immortelle tree. As the dawn lighted Gionda, he was only too happy
to see again the once-frantic creature from the stream, now calmed.
He gently stroked her and, looking beyond to the trees and bushes
of the forest, he saw a great collection of animals and birds watching.
"Lookl" he cried fearfully.
Gionda rose laughing and introduced him to all her friends, which
was an intricate ceremony, for they had great dignity; their titles
and positions in the society of the green world had to be quite
The parrot was the most gracious, bowing endlessly, and the owl
had great diflBculty keeping awake. The agouti, it was made quite
clear, was neither rabbit nor squirrel but something in between.
He remained standing throughout the ceremony, saying not a word.
It was whispered that he had mislaid his voice. The snake made
a better appearance than the hunter expected. She held her head
high and rocked it from side to side in her oriental way. She smiled
much of the time. There were many others, bowing, chattering, and
chirping to him; he knew that he would never remember all their
The sun was getting up before the introductions finished. The
creatures of the forest left, going about the business of the day.
The hunter, exhausted by the night and the ceremony, lay down.
Gionda kneeled beside him and he fell asleep whispering, "Dou-dou,
sweet thing, dou-dou . . ."
The hummingbird, sipping nectar from dew-soaked flowers,
flapped her wings so fast that time was a turtle. Voum-voom hung
from a branch and surveyed in a mirroring pool below the condition
of her skin. She busily presented to herself one pose, then another,
and another, trying to decide if a new skin were needed and if so
what shade might she wear best. Balei-ji, the parrot, never caring
if there were anyone to hear or not, talked. All he did was talk,
talk, talk all day, running down only at night. And this was a new
day! Refreshed, he was wound up bursting tight. The owl sat high in
the immortelle tree, his claws clamped in sleep to a branch. He slept
a sleep that hears nothing; however, Balei-ji's clatter was enough
to wake the hunter and Gionda.
They rose from their beds of leaves and Gionda led the way to
a nearby pool where the hunter bathed. She brought him a branch
of akee fruit, an apple the color of gold, and a pommerac pear.
When the hunter had finished his bath and breakfast, he walked
with Gionda, laying his head to hers.
The welcoming embrace of the sun invited them to join him for a
morning walk through the forest. He was a warm host, leading them
until the blue of deep forest slowly became, in his fullest power,
a mottled smear of emerald.
They came after a short walk to a large clearing beside which
grew a holy inwpou tree. It was a huge pylon that seemed to be an
ancestor of the forest. Gionda stood before it and, lifting her delicate
head, she bleated a call to its distant leaves. She pranced to its base
and without lowering her head she withdrew. She turned left and
bleated and, moving quickly, she circled the clearing, repeating her
The hunter stood in the center of the clearing, watching the beauti-
ful creature move in the ritual. He looked up at the great tree, its
trunk bound halfway by tie-tie vines. The parasite orchid fretted it
with clusters of spiny leaves and sprays of pale yellow flowers. Above
the vines the trunk was a smooth naked shaft of gray to near its
top, where the branches and leaves burst into a dark green ball.
The hunter remembered tales of his childhood that told of men
who climbed such trees. In the leaves, it was said, thev had seen
tlie frowning faces of gods— they fell in one long cry of dying.
Presently the animals and birds began to arrive and Gionda stood
by the hunter, nervously nudging him and wliimpering a little moan
In the Beginning
of affection. She looked at him with troubled eyes but she did not
speak. He smiled at her and stroked her face. In his mind raced a
thousand questions, but like a man in a house of strangers he only
smiled. Voum-voom arrived and, hke a fussing mother-in-law,
squirmed between them. The parrot calmly hopped between them
also and with one claw seized the snake firmly by the neck. He flew
up and dropped her unceremoniously on a nearby rock. Voum-voom
lowered her eyelids and sucked her teeth but she stayed where
she was dropped.
The agouti arrived last— carrying a white moon flower in his teeth.
Gionda kneeled in a place full of sun and delicately bit off one of
the flower's three petals. The hunter kneeled beside her and, follow-
ing her example, took a petal and ate it. The third was taken by
the parrot high above the mapou tree toward the sun. The parrot
dropped the petal and, looking up, the couple watched it fall,
twinkhng in the sunlight until it disappeared into the globe of foliage
that crowned the tree. The sun moved. They watched this burning
priest until it rested upon the top of the tree. The tree seemed,
at the moment of the sun's passing, to turn to flames. High up from
its lower branches the hunter saw a black ash fall. It broke in the
air and crumbled into a drifting wisp of dust.
Gionda laid her head on the hunter's and he, sensing that a union
had been made, embraced her. She leaped up and, to the anteater's
drumming foot, she moved solemnly in a ritual dance to the inhab-
itants of the holy tree.
At the moment she stopped the creatures broke into loud cries,
squeals and chirps, trills and rasps, until the hunter clasped his ears
to shut out their sweet and dissonant joy. Gionda rose to receive
their greetings and the hunter clung to her, smiling but fearful, as
birds and animals milled about them.
Gionda broke away from them, leading the hunter into the forest.
They promenaded through green alleys with the reveling creatures
following at a respectful distance. They traveled until they reached
the pool where they had had their first violent meeting.
To the surprise of everyone they found Voum-voom in a shining
new skin, the color of a fresh green apple. Beside her lay her present
to the couple: a great lounging chair of intricately woven rattan,
its back fanned in the shape of a rising sun. Since Eden she had
learned a great deal indeed; her wits were never sharper. As soon
as Gionda and the hunter had lain on the chair, Voum-voom, who is
Voum-voom, and will always be Voum-voom, stuck her head on
Gionda's shoulder and above the singing of the birds she loudly
wept a profusion of tears.
"Voosh," blew the cascaradura fish. With all sincerity and all his
blessings he drenched the trio vdth his holy water. Gionda, expecting
it, sat happily doused. The hunter, in a daze, felt nothing at all,
but Voum-voom got her new skin wet and, mad as Eden and
Heaven, she told the fish off.
Bleed, the cascaradura fish, only gurgled in reply. Forgetting to
unwind her tail, Voum-voom went after him. Crashl went the chair.
Down went the couple; Voum-voom hit the water with hisses and a
flailing tail. Bleed eluded her at every turn and gaily slapped water
in her face, transforming the party into a liquid cockfight.
In all her blazing plumes Ef-la, the flamingo, made a late entrance.
Unfriendly viands had plagued the entire flight from Venezuela and,
wind-worn, all fuss and feathers, she flew round and round, trying
to descend to the rim of the pool. But there was no space— all ring-
side seats were taken. Being hopelessly vain, she was not one to
take a back seat. She decided, after seeing what was going on below,
that if any creature were going to attract attention, that creature
would have to be Ef-la.
In one swoop she grasped the contenders, one in each claw, and
in four flaps she deposited them a safe distance downstream to fight
as they pleased. She wheeled around and alighted on the ruined
chair. Her expression, which she liberally displayed to all present,
could have chilled flames. The agouti began to shnk away.
"Stay where you arel All of you!"
Turning to Gionda and the hunter, she motioned with a flip of
her wing to follow. Boldly she flapped away any creature that
In the Beginning
blocked the path. The amused Gionda and her still-confused mate
followed submissively into the forest.
Once out of the hearing of the others she stopped and, leaning
precariously in her most soulful pose, she said to Gionda, "Take
your beloved to the poui tree— I'll handle the buffoons. Oh, my dear,
I know how much a Httie aloneness means to a woman at a time
hke this." She spoke as an old professional in the arena of love.
As Gionda and the hunter made their way through the forest, they
heard in the distance the shrieking Ef-la giving what could only
be the definitive in etiquette.
They came to a place where a great golden poui grew, its leafless
branches heavy with flowers. They lay down beneath it and said
nothing. For the first time they were faced with each other; in the
movement of their enchantment there had been no time. If it had
been possible for either of them to think, they might have questioned
the union. Between them they sensed, unhke the others, that there
was more to their actions than either knew.
Gionda, long mother of the forest, longer lonely, queen of her
land, watched the black creature, the hunter, and found a creature
that was like herself. In the vast length of her life it had never
occurred to her that there might be a mate among the deer that
in lonelier times seemed to her own kind. Somewhere, long before
the parrot was recording, she had reahzed that other creatures, as
they appeared and disappeared, were mortal and she was not. She
was removed from their lives and they became her subjects. She
no longer remembered at what point she had taken the position;
it slid on her as a snake's skin slides off.
Yet she felt in some way that she was mortal too, and only in
some instinctively expected event cx)uld she return to a creature's
mortahty. In this smooth black creature she sensed that her Hfe
would find its next movement.
The hunter lay in the cool shade, letting his thoughts flit. He
watched Gionda from the corner of his eye and saw her as his
longed-for joy and peace. It had occurred to him that he must be
in the power of a soucouyan or a forest witch, but he didn't care.
He vaguely remembered that what had come before had given him
pain and now he felt beyond pain.
Gionda rose and looked back at him; softly she commanded,
He rose and followed her; she walked slowly ahead. She did not
speak nor did he. As she picked her way through intricate paths,
he became aware by that silent language lovers know that she was
leading him into a part of her life that was never before shared.
He feared the knowledge; he feared a wound in his enchantment.
They climbed steadily, weaving between walls of trees, laced by
bougainvillaea and those myriads of vines that in search of the sun
struggle up from the forest's floor. Beetles hummed in the blue air,
water dripped on curtains of pale, sunless flowers. Ferns spread
into their path and the forest clicked and snapped with its un-
appeasable hunger to grow.
After a time they entered a place of rocks where little vegetation
could grow, and after a long climb winding up a wild goat path
they mounted the crest of the mountain and faced the sun. Gionda
walked to the edge of a steep incline and turned to wait for the
The hunter, moving toward her, was at that moment afraid. \\Tien
he reached her, he touched her face and silently implored some
answer to his fear. She did not speak; she only looked away and
his eyes followed hers.
Below, to the left, lay the forest, mottled in sun and greens. Birds
flew up and fell again. Occasionally one could see a holy mapou
tree rising out of the mass.
"That is my land, now yours. I have ruled it since I can remember,
and I don't know why it should be so. Some great time ago, I began
coming up to this quiet place asking sky and rock and passing wind,
why? But no one has the answer."
She watched him as he hung over the ledge, looking dowm on the
great forest. She wondered if he had heard her words, for he was
silent. Below he saw the forest moving in tlie wind and from this
In the Beginning
high place it was no longer trees but like a sea, eddying and moving
in its tides.
After a long time he turned back to her. "It is a whole world
in itself, and beautiful." She waited for him to continue but he said
nothing more. In joy she leaped up and a feeling of freedom came
over her. She had felt with fear that he came with an answer for
her and his coming had made an answer no longer wanted.
Running back to the path leading down, she called happily to
him. The hunter for a moment looked back to the forest, seeing
it sweep away to where the horizon stopped it in a pale green line,
and, turning, his eyes caught sight of a valley to the right with hills
mounted at its sides like gates. Beyond them, past a savannah, lay
fields grassed and caned; it was a land he knew, a land of men.
He ran quickly away and followed Gionda down the path.
They leaped down from rock to rock, precariously playing at being
birds. They laughed at their foolishness. The hunter laughed loudest,
holding on fiercely to his joy. Gionda paused below him where the
forest began, and again a seriousness overcame her. She turned
sharply left, following a path along the forest's edge. Near a place
where shattered ledges of rocks sweated rivulets, the water forming
pools and gentle cascades, she waited for him. They forded the
pools and leaped the cascades and entered the forest.
After a short journey through thick undergrowth Gionda chose a
place in a screen of vines and, struggling against it, she cut through
to a place where the forest cleared and this clearing lay like a grass
cup waiting to be filled.
Night fell. The magenta sweep of evening ambushed the couple,
for the day had flown so fast that they were unaware of its inevitable
parade. The color of the evening enroped the forest, flattened it out
to black, and only the fretwork of treetops was exposed against the
Gionda and the hunter lay beneath a copse of bamboo, watching
stars come out. In the forest eyes were watching them and these
eyes knew nothing of the future, but gazed at the couple and under-
stood the present.
The hunter fidgeted; he tore leaves from the bamboo and
shredded them. He got up and wandered to the edge of the clearing,
then returned and lay down. Gionda watched him and wondered
what flaw in the day was passing in his mind.
"I saw a valley up there," he said quickly.
The sound of his voice surprised her; she felt the chill of cold
rains. "Yes, I've seen it too."
"It is a strange-looking place— to see it far below."
"It is the land of men."
Gionda felt her body tense as it did when she sensed danger.
Beyond the boundaries of love this black creature had a secret part
of himself that she feared. But she waited for him to open its doors
and tell her of the past.
"I feel too sorry for men that they can't have a land beautiful
like this. I've heard it told they bear the curse of a god. ... I knew
men once. They are fooHsh creatures, always wanting what is just
beside their hand."
"Have they got no eyes?" Gionda asked.
The hunter drew a long sigh, "Oh, eyes they got, but only to look
with; never can they see what they want most."
He sighed again and stared at nothing in thought.
"Are you sad here?" Gionda asked in fear.
"For them I am sad. But I am happy with you and so I will be.'*
Gionda relaxed at his words and stretched out in the luxury of
peace. The hunter stood up, happily engulfed by the powers of the
forest night. The arms of the great mapoxi tree waved good night.
The owl's eyes burned like a night light and the wind in the forest
brushed and snapped a staccato lullaby. He wearied and, lying down
beside his mate, one hand upon her silk throat, thcv slept.
In the night he dreamed. Out of a bank of sleep he found himself
again in the land of men walking a white dust road. He hurried
in a desperate, hard-breathing way. Ahead of liim, across the
In the Beginning
savannah, he saw a great fire; he heard the voices of singing women.
Their songs told of extravagant pleasures, of love and happiness.
They beckoned him with lures of secrets that led to kingdoms of
gold. But he held to the road and ran on until he came to a point
where the road turned and entered the forest. In the dense trees
he heard a great commotion, it was the sounds of frightened animals,
birds screeched in fear. They called to him, but out of the sounds
his ear plucked one— the snake sucking her teeth.
He ran from the road into the Guinea grass, fighting his way to-
ward the fire. He sank in the grass; it rose over his head. Quickly
as he could he made his way into its mass, stumbling sometimes
over roots. At times he was faced with impenetrable hedges of cane.
Always, when it seemed impossible to pass, the cane would part as
if by command and he would run again toward the singing.
The savannah rose into a barren knoll from which he could see
the land ahead. The fire was gone. He squatted to rest but the voices
of the women were in the grass just ahead, urging him to come.
He leaped up and ran down the slope, entering the grass tangle.
Almost immediately he came to a clearing where a great mound
of ash lay. He ran to it and found still-hot coals. But there were
nowhere in sight any women. He slumped down, panting, and felt
From the cane that surrounded him a parrot flew up and screeched
a high metallic cry. It was answered by the bleat of a deer. He stood
up and called for Gionda, but the sound that came in answer was
the drummed song of the women.
The cane parted and he hesitated, distrusting this easy passage.
The voices of the women came louder and nearer; it seemed that
they were only around the bend of the passage in the cane. He
entered quickly, running fiercely now. The voices laughed and sang,
always a little ahead of him.
He ran, it seemed, for hours; his heart grew until it was too large
for his chest. It weighted him like a rock, pounding its own beat of
Where a stream cut the savannah he fell, and after a time he
drank with cupped hands from its water. The voices lay in the
cane on the other side of the stream, droning now a ritual song,
and he heard the pounding of many feet dancing the solemn cere-
monies of the city.
He hung over the stream and wept into it. The tail of a snake
broke the surface and lashed water in his face. When the ripples
faded and the surface smoothed, he saw in the depths of the stream
the snake. It lay on the bottom, waiting. He put his hand down
into the water and the snake coiled and rose, swimming away from
him upstream. He called, "Voum-voom, lead me backl"
The snake swam determinedly on, sucking her teeth as she went.
Across the stream the cane opened and the hunter saw the gold-
braceleted women dancing and singing around the feast of a black
king. They beckoned to him and he plunged into the water.
The dream broke and he awakened in the clearing to the early
morning sun and found Gionda gone.
He rose, finding only an impression on the turf of grass where
Gionda had lain. He called for her and waited, then called again.
No answer came from the surrounding forest.
He thought suddenly of the strange night of the day he came
and he shuddered, remembering the snake sucking her teeth. Out
of habit he looked for his bow and arrow. They were under the
immortelle tree, he remembered, but exactly where that was he
didn't know. He patted his knife, still strapped to his waist, and
he felt more secure.
He went into the forest to search for breakfast and wandered
until he came upon a pommerac tree. He cHmbed it and ate its
Sitting in the tree, he remembered his dream and it saddened
him. He wondered if it was a dream of warning, of prophecv, or
one of those wild nightmares that appear from nowhere, for no
reason. The image of the snake writhed in his head and he shouted
for the parrot, "Balei-ji," and for Oxoto the owl. "Gionda!" he shouted.
He felt an emptiness in his heart. The dream haunted him, but
he knew from long experience tliat dreams seldom came true.
In the Beginning
He patiently searched until he found a path where broken ferns
showed a recent passage and, following it, he called for his mate,
the owl, and the parrot. He called any name he could remember,
but in the forest there was a drum silence. He knew that silence
in a great forest was unreal. Its only meaning was fearful. He
strained his ear to catch any sound. The snap of a tree growing
sounded deep in the forest and as he listened it seemed that there
was ahead of him the murmur of distant falling water. He hurried
In the forest a dead tree crashed as it fell. He automatically
crouched behind a great fern and drew his knife. Only silence
He waited for a moment, then he ran on, stopping where a copse
of bamboo grew. He broke off a dried length of it. With his knife he
slashed at one end until it had a sharp point and, carrying it, he
The path he had chosen led steadily down to a place of reeds
and mangrove trees that formed an arbor. An easy, moss-covered
path led in and broken reeds along the path showed its use. He
traveled along it for a short distance and slowly he was seized by
the idea that he was again in his dream. He turned back, sensing
The path was different when he turned; it offered no easy way
back. Doggedly he searched for his ov^oi tracks, but the wet moss
gave no evidence of his passing. The mangrove trees spread their
roots across the path and laced themselves into meshes to be hurtled.
He climbed and bullied his way through until his feet began to
sink in soggy earth. Before him lay only stagnant water and a morass
of yellowing water growth.
He had no heart to call Gionda or her friends; they seemed as
distant as joy. A cold wind passed over him; he turned and stumbled
back to the moss path, walking along it numbly to whatever it held
for him. His heart sank. He felt lost and separated from Paradise.
An old feehng of loneliness sat in his stomach and it felt as famiHar
as a dear friend.
Along the path he wept, but meekly he continued as it led him
into a dark, vine-hung world where the air was thick with the smell
of rot and damp. A gray moth quivered on a leaf like a frightened
hand and then flapped away into a maze of dripping vines. He
expected anything. This was a place where death might choose to
build his lair. With tear-shut eyes he moved forward until he felt
a warmth on his face.
He halted and, opening his eyes, he froze. The bright savannah
lay before him and he could see the rock under which his clothes
were still piled.
In another part of the forest birds cascaded in a torrent of activity.
Flip, flip, flip, they rose; flap, flap, flap, they fell as they gathered
puft's of wild cotton, twigs, and petals. Ef-la, the flamingo, marshaled
their work in a continuous wail of orders and corrections. The
animals dragged fronds of the coconut palm, tara leaves, and bundles
of reeds. That part of the forest was filled with a staccato choir of
chatter, orders, and song. lere, the hummingbird, tried to sing with
the others, but she only managed to gurgle through her throatful
of honey. On high notes she lost most of what she had collected.
Gionda sprang about, up and down, over and across, inspecting
the animals' collection of provisions and materials for her new home.
Fast asleep, Oxoto the owl sat on her shoulder as she leaped and
pranced; there was little or nothing that could disturb his sleep. But
a shrill warning screech from the parrot woke him.
"Morocoy!" the parrot cried. The forest creatures stopped their
work and waited quietly. Down the path came Morocoy, the ancient
sea turtle— messenger of the gods. Dragging his great shell, he
entered the gathering and went directly to Gionda. In a voice broken
by age he asked that Gionda alone receive his message.
The flamingo came forward, bowing in a great flourish, and an-
nounced that she would lead everyone to the site of the new home
and set them to work. She outlined what sort of decor she had
in mind. The ancient tiude let her chatter.
For the bed, first twigs— a thin layer— then a deep covering of
In the Beginning .
cotton and the whole covered by pink petals— Fve had all the others
thrown away, the yellow and lavender have no place at all. For
the walls, I thought that . . /'
Blinking his great watery eyes, the turtle stared at her. Ef-la
fidgeted from leg to leg, cleared her throat for a parting remark,
and, far from any rule of etiquette, stepped back and fell over a
bundle of reeds. She went down in a flurry of pink feathers and pole
legs, then staggered to her feet and ran. The rest of the creatures
followed, flying, walking and snickering.
Alone, Gionda and the turtle began their ancient ceremony of
identification that was repeated each time the turtle brought a
message. Morocoy made his way slowly to the stream, pulling him-
self over the rubble of broken twigs and spoiled blossoms. He didn't
complain of the difficulties of his passage; he had no comment for
the celebration. The gods had given him such a great length of life
that he had reached some level of living that found no reaction
to what was generally thought to be important; he lived apart and,
though he crawled awkwardly across the earth, he lived far above
all other creatures. In wisdom, it was said, he was the footstool
under the gods.
Arriving at a sandy bank of the stream, he stretched out his long
armored neck toward the sun and gasped his song, a confusion of
sounds the meaning of which Gionda had never known. When he
finished, he began his dance, shuflBing his feet and dipping his beak
in the sand until he had etched the spiraling symbol of the sun
passing above seven moons; it was his mark, his badge of authority.
Gionda patiently waited for him to finish so she could take her
part; he moved aside; Gionda solemnly went forward, kneeled upon
the sign, and waited.
Morocoy, croaking and gasping, delivered the message:
**/ come with news gathered at night among the sleepless and
proclaimed in the dawn by those who watch. I come with news
offulfilbnent, of dreams long dreamed, of ancient hopes.
"Gionda, immortal mother of the forest, hear a child; he mortal
"You will gain and lose the portions of mortality as the sun dies
and is horn again. In you, life will blossom and wither as the seasons,
only to hlossom again. But as the everlasting sea you will survive,
emptied and replenished through time. When tlie Jioly inapou tree
yellows to gold, prepare to journey.*'
A childl a child 1 Gionda leaped up without ceremony and ran
through the forest calling the news. But everyone was at the clear-
ing, so she ran rapidly there to find the birds and animals putting
the final decorations on her new home. It was a beautiful lair,
marvelously decorated with flowers and berries. A supply of wild
fruit was cached in bins at one side and its walls were intricately
woven of reeds. She looked inside and sniffed the delicate perfume
of her bed of flowers. The roof was vaulted, thatched with palm
fronds and secured with vines.
She turned to the parrot, asking, ''Where is he, my mate?"
"I don't know, he was not here when we came."
"Oxoto, my owl," she cried, "where is he?"
The owl opened his eyes, "I've been asleep— and before that— I
was with you."
Gionda asked all the creatures present. No one had seen him.
"Perhaps he is with the snake, she has not been seen either,"
Balei-ji offered. Gionda ran into the forest, bleating fearfnllv. The
joy of her news fluttered and died; she could not utter the message
to the creatures who had followed. She remembered his strange
words about the valley that led to men and she reckless!)' bounded
away in the direction of the rocks.
The hunter sat by the stream in the late afternoon sun. His clothes
were still under the rock and he felt somehow that if he waited
Gionda would come. He remembered her promise that he was pro-
tected, but he felt no protection. The world inside the forest seemed
like a dream. He hopefully watched the path that led back into
In the Beginning
the forest; he was tempted to enter, but he knew that for him the
paths would hold only trickery. The forest had given him joy and
peace, and in the end it, hke all things, betrayed him. His mind
wandered; he remembered his dream and it mixed in his mind
with the forest until he could no longer remember which was which.
He felt an aura slipping from him; loneHness took firm roots in his
He heard a familiar sound and, looking up, he saw on the savan-
nah the snake, Voum-voom, combing the green bed and sucking
her teeth. The hunter ran to her, shouting, "Voum-voom, wait for
mel" but the snake continued.
\He caught up with her and he fell on his knees. "Voum-voom,
I'm lost, lead me back."
The snake blinked her eyes lazily. *What is tied to your waist?"
The hunter looked down and saw his knife. He remembered for
a moment his lost bow and arrows. "It is a knife," he said.
"What is it for?"
"I use it to cut vines and to mal«e arrows."
"What are arrows for?"
The hunter did not answer.
"What creature are you? Have you a name?" the snake asked.
The himter sensed the mockery of the questions. "Voum-voom,
lead me backl"
The snake slid away and rapidly made for deep grass. The hunter
lifted his bamboo stake and hurled it after her, but she was gone.
He heard her laughter somewhere in the grass and, with bitter
echoing in his ears, he heard "Man, man, man . . ."
Sadly he went back to the stream and put on his clothes. He
set out across the savannah and paused before he reached the deep
grass. He looked back at the forest, beautiful in its myriads of greens
and blues; it swayed and shimmered in a breeze.
"I am not your fool." He hurled the words at the forest and, pass-
ing into the tall grass, he set out for the city.
Gionda stayed on top of the mountain until she had scanned every
part of the forest and the vaUey; nowhere could she see any evidence
of her mate. With a heavy heart she leaped up and recklessly
descended the goat path. She began skirting the edge of the woods,
bleating as she went. It was her plan to work her way gradually to
the center; somewhere she would find him.
She met the parrot and the owl; she instructed them to marshal
every creature to find her mate. They promised not to sleep until
every bird and beast was told of the search. They readily agreed
on a plan and flew off, one to the north, and one to the south.
She ran crazily through paths that laced the forest's edge until
night overtook her. The poor-me-one bird sang his sad song that
night. He flew from tree to tree above Gionda as she searched the
dark. She could see nothing, for her tears became a liquid veil.
She ran, then sniffed, and ran again.
Near dawn she heard laughter outside the forest. She ran to where
she could look out on the savannah and there in the grass Voum-
voom rolled over and over, laughing.
Gionda called to her and the snake came immediately, winding
up to her mistress. "Sweet Gionda, why don't you be asleep? Dou-
dou, sweetheart, the night is near passed."
"Have you seen my mate?"
"Why, yes," Voum-voom simpered.
"Oh, early yesterday I saw him far out on the savannah heading
for the horizon. I tried to catch up with him but he was going too
fast for me. I came down to borrow some plumes from the guinea
grass to decorate your lair and there he was, nmning as fast as he
Gionda's legs bent and she crouched on the ground weeping.
Voum-voom, using every wile, tried to console her, but it was no
use. Gionda whimpered and bleated and the snake sat by fearfully.
At length Gionda rose; without looking at the snake she said, "Go
tell the others that my mate has left for a time. I will be on the
mountain waiting for his return."
Choked with tears, Voum-voom, the hypocrite, wheezed noisily
and Gionda ran quickly away, heading for the mountain.
In the Beginning
Gionda took up her vigil on the mountain where she and the
hunter had surveyed the forest below. She waited for hours, hours
turned to days, days to weeks, weeks to months, months to the
moment when the time of birth was upon her.
The birds and animals, en masse, came to the mountaintop and
the parrot, Balei-ji, implored her to descend to her lair. Gionda
looked sadly at the gathering and rose heavily from the earth.
The agouti and his family, to cousins and aunts, preceded Gionda
down the steep path, clearing loose stones and repairing washouts
as they went. The birds massed about her and when she faltered
they supported her. The train moved down the mountain slowly
with much activity and few words. Pools were forded, paths were
cleared and widened for her passage, and at last they reached the
lair. It was as Gionda had last seen it; the forest creatures had
kept it ready for her return. She noticed only one thing different,
from the ceiling a bow and a packet of arrows hung. Her pain was
upon her. She slumped down and they left her to bear the child
as a creature of the forest would— alone.
This was the greatest moment in the forest's history, and through
the night the murmur of excitement drifted to Gionda as she bore
the child, a creature half man, half deer. When Gionda had licked
the child clean, she set it to suckle and called for Oxoto the owl
and Balei-ji the parrot to present her heir. They came quietly in
the first Hght of dawn to marvel at its beauty. It was black to its
thighs as its father was and its legs were tawny iui ending in tiny
hoofs. The nubs of horns already showed in its curly black hair.
The day came to the sky in pink on her flight to blue. Gionda
thought of the hunter and saw in the child his black beauty. She
nuzzled him and for the first time since her mate had left she felt
at peace. She reviewed all the strange things that had woven her
life to this point; she remembered the old turtie Morocoy and his
message to her.
Summoning the parrot and the owl, she instructed them to watch
the great mapou tree and report any change in it that might occur.
They flew up, the owl to perch in the tree to sleep and the parrot
to inspect the holy mapou.
He returned almost immediately to report, "It is the same as al-
ways, almost. I think it is not so green today/'
Gionda lost no time in beginning the preparations that were
necessary before she was to leave. She began by introducing him
to all the creatures: Son-Bois, son of the forest. They bowed to him
and gave their allegiances. Daily they came to bring him fruits, gifts
of flowers and pretty pebbles. They fussed over him and used every
wit to make him happy so they might hear his laughter.
Gionda taught him the names of flowers, of bushes and plants,
and instructed him in their uses. The leaf of the plantain for swell-
ing, cobwebs for bleeding wounds, mud plastered over reeds for
broken bones, juices collected from the green paw-paw fruit for
stomach-ache, and on and on from the bitter barks of trees to the
bee's sting he was taught the art of healing.
When he was barely strong enough Gionda took him on a tour
of the whole forest, showing him all its secrets so that he could
one day rule in her place. The tour lasted for months and when
his legs grew weak Balei-ji the parrot devised reeds bound to his
legs with vine for support. Son-Bois hopped along like a stiff-legged
crane and soon the vines broke and Gionda took him on her back.
Later Balei-ji turned up with a basket of rattan and, seating Son-
Bois in it, he called his numerous children to hft it. Son-Bois rode
in his air-borne basket for the rest of the journey and Balei-ji never
tired of talking about his unique invention.
Near the end of the tour Gionda mounted the goat path and
she dismissed the exhausted parrot family, who were very grateful.
They had never worked so hard and happily they flew back to
the forest to their leisurely life of hunting for seeds and berries.
Son-Bois followed his mother up the difficult path and, reaching
the top, he pranced about excitedly. He asked endless questions
about the savannah, the valley, and the land beyond. Gionda told
him all she knew of men and, try as she might, she couldn't stop
the insistent memory of the hunter. Sadly she told him of his father
In the Beginning
and she felt great joy describing the beautiful creature she had
known for such a short time. "Whenever you want to see how he
looked, stand close to a quiet pool and your reflection will be his
It was true, Son-Bois was already nearly his father's height and
his body was molded like a ripe black fruit with a smooth, succulent
"Tell me more of man," he asked.
"There is no more that I can tell you," she replied. "They are not
Hke us, they seem cursed never to know peace."
Together they watched the forest below. Gionda pointed out this
landmark, then that, and suddenly she fell silent. Below, rising out
of the forest, the holy mapou waved in the wind, its leaves had
turned to gold.
They descended to the forest and Gionda summoned Balei-ji and
Oxoto. To them she turned over governorship of her son, to the
parrot the day, to the owl the night. She instructed the parrot to
lecture Son-Bois on all the knowledge he had recorded and all that
his ancestors had collected and handed down to him.
"To you Balei-ji, my parrot, blessed with a mimicking tongue, I
give authority to instruct the sounds of life, of love, of death, and
"To you Oxoto, my owl, blessed with the eyes of night, I give
the task of watching for fires from lightning and of men. With your
ancient call alert my son and all creatures to danger."
Quietly they bowed and Gionda left them. Relieved of her re-
sponsibilities, she wandered through the forest to give it her fare-
well. She held back her tears until she reached the pool where
she had first seen the hunter. Saying good-by to Bleed, the cascara-
dura fish, she began to weep and the fish understood. He sank in the
pool, leaving her alone to long for that happier day.
Balei-ji arrived to announce that the turtle had come and was with
Son-Bois. Gionda left the pool and passed through the mass of
creatures that had gathered at the head of the sea path. They
bowed their heads, saying nothing as she passed, and she felt less
sad. All the creatures had determinedly happy expressions on their
faces— the work of Ef-la the flamingo. She was the least successful
in her attempt to smile; a tear strayed from an eye and rolled dowa
her beak— hanging on its end like a ghstering jewel. Gionda hurried
The parrot held down a furious Voum-voom who had prepared
an elaborate farewell. She tried to wail but managed only a gasp
as the parrot tightened his claw around her neck.
Morocoy, the turtle, and Son-Bois arrived. Gionda was surprised.
Her son seemed suddenly no longer a child. His eyes, always so
naked before, were heavy with some secret knowledge.
"Love everything that the gods pass your way, be strong and
these things will make you happy," she instructed him.
Son-Bois embraced his mother and she shook away gently. He
bowed to her gracefully as no child could and, terrified by the rising
memory of her lost mate, she fled down the sea path. The turtle
followed slowly and for the rest of that day the forest was silent
and listless over its loss.
Along the path Gionda waited for Morocoy; her tears fell on the
grass. But when the turtle appeared she held her head high and
followed him patiently.
They traveled miles through deep green trees, and farther, where
the forest thinned to its edge, the late sun colored the trees hot
red. They glowed in the face of night. Up hill, down hill, through
swamp, across lowlands, over rivers and streams they traveled until
they reached on the third day the undying sea. On the white sand
the ancient turtle prepared his rite to sea gods, and when he had
finished, with Gionda perched on his back he took to the sea, sinking
into its depths to the abode of the gods— their first stop on the journey
One morning, one bright morning, seated beneath a mango tree,
Balei-ji tutored what he thought was his last lesson to Son-Bois.
Son-Bois eagerly took every note of knowledge and questioned the
In the Beginning
parrot endlessly. He dragged up every sound he'd ever heard and
it was with some rehef that he saw the end of his work nearing.
A commotion to the south interrupted them. Son-Bois looked up
to see Ef-Ia, his mother's friend, flapping furiously toward them.
He ran down a path, his hoofs drumming the hard earth, to a clear-
ing and he waved to her, smiling. His white teeth reflected the sun
and like a traveling joke bounced up in a beam; the flamingo saw
Her pink plumes glistened in the sun and at times seemed orange,
but her face was unmistakably red. It glowed like a burning stick.
Son-Bois looked at Balei-ji, puzzled, and the parrot looked even more
puzzled. Never being patient for news and knowing how tempera-
mental the flamingo was, Balei-ji flew up to meet her. Son-Bois stood
anxiously awaiting their descent, but Balei-ji took the flamingo
around in several circles. He extracted with no difficulty her news.
They gossiped like women while descending and immediately,
as Ef-la alighted, she asked to be excused. Her plumes were magenta.
The parrot and Son-Bois accompanied her as she ran to the pool,
sat down in the water, and slowly cooled oflF. Bleed, the cascaradura
fish, to Ef-la's delight, splashed her with water and soon she was
cooling to her natural color. She ruifled her feathers and regained
Balei-ji stuttered and stammered, he flew, he ran, he sat, he
walked. He had thought that his last lecture had been given, but
this was not so. "Voum-voom is not to be trusted!" he announced.
"Though everyone in the forset has been too kind to say a word,
we've always had our thoughts. For years and years and years, long
as memory, that snake has tried to make mischief— you remember
when she went about begging for feathers to fly?" he asked the
"Impudence!" Ef-la replied. "We birds are most choosy to whom
we give feathers. She has, to date, and will stay on the ground,
never going higher than trees, and never, never wiU she get into
the air. It's our only refuge, you know."
Balei-ji, seeing a tirade developing, shushed the flamingo, who
had again colored deeply, dangerously near red.
Balei-ji carried the news on. "The one day when everyone in the
forest forgot time and responsibility was, of course, the very day
Voum-voom would choose. We were building the lair you were bom
in— though then we didn't suspect that you were to be born. Gionda's
and her mate's lair— your father— and that Voum-voom "
"I remember she was nowhere around that day," the flamingo
put it, "but I thought it was her well-known laziness that kept her
away. Even Oxoto stayed awake part of that day to help!"
"Ef-la, please," the parrot begged.
"What has Voum-voom done?" asked Son-Bois.
"Well," Balei-ji continued, "Voum-voom slipped and slithered
away from us, out of sight, and how no one seems to know, but
she lured your father to the edge of the forest and out on the savan-
nah. What spell she used we don't know, but our informant heard
your father tell Voum-voom he was lost and begged her to lead
him back. That snake laughed at him and then hid in the grass."
"And called him a manl No wonder he left," Ef-la cried.
Balei-ji glared at the flamingo and turned again to Son-Bois.
"Voum-voom came back and told everyone that she had seen him
far out on the savannah headed for the land of men. Naturally when
he never returned, we thought the worst— at least, we felt certain
he didn't care for our company. In short, Son-Bois, my last lecture
is treachery. Not everyone in this world is pleased by another's
"Who has told you all this?" Son-Bois asked the flamingo.
"Why, the very guinea grass where Voum-voom hid! He told me
how he'd been trying for months to attract some legged or winged
creature to carry the tale. Only the oddest piece of luck made me
hght there; I was working a current of wind to save mv strength,
you see, when I hit a downdraft. I fell right in the clump of guinea
grass!" Son-Bois smiled, for he knew more than the birds did of the
event. Morocoy the turtle had instructed him in the workings of the
high gods. His father was a man, he knew, chosen by tlie gods
In the Beginning .
for his creation. Seated in the holy mapoti tree, the invisible ones
had artfully commanded the forest to lead his father out so that he
might return to his own world; it was for his safety as well as for the
other creatures. The turtle had told him of the knife and the stake;
sooner or later the hunter would use them— without wanting to
perhaps. Men were proud and marvelous creatures; they were
known to stand up in the face of gods.
"Sometliing must be donel" the flamingo snapped.
"Summon the snake and let us hear her side of the tale," Son-Bois
commanded. Balei-ji called to his children and they cried the mes-
sage over the forest. "Son-Bois summons the snake."
Ef-la and Balei-ji impatiently awaited her appearance. Son-Bois
retired to the shade of the mango tree, remembering the turtle's
lecture. The ways of the gods seem often to be cruel, but theirs
is a difficult business. When they use mortals to create a new arm,
as he himself was created, they pay a fair price: immortality. With
time on their side what can't a man or a deer endure? Loneliness
for a time? Fear? Betrayal? To bear for a season only the pain that
any mortal may have as his portion; for only that, hfe renewed as
the seasons. The prize was not the path but life.
A collection of birds and animals had gathered; they buzzed over
the tale of the guinea grass. The commotion had awakened Oxoto
the owl, and he stood by Balei-ji awaiting the snake.
Voum-voom arrived with obvious pride that she had been sum-
moned so grandly, but, seeing the parrot's and the flamingo's glare,
she sensed a trap. Nevertheless she put up a suave front.
Son-Bois spoke. "The guinea grass has reported that you were
responsible for my father's leaving the forest and it is said that you
reported another story than the one that is true."
Voum-voom looked at the birds and, lowering her eyelids, she
smiled. "I am not surprised that malicious tales are told about me.
That day was just as I said: I was going to the savannah to borrow
guinea-grass plumes for decorating Gionda's lair, and far out on the
savannah, I saw, running as fast as he could, your father. I said
to myself, 'Whatever is that man doing out there?* "
"Man?" Son-Bois asked.
"You see, she said it again 1" Ef-la shrieked.
The snake shrank as she reahzed what her words meant and
then she rose to her full height, her eyes slits of contempt. "Manl"
she hissed. "You foolsl You would have waited until he had taken
over the forest. I've known those creatures from the beginning. Men
are evil, they don't belong herel"
Son-Bois stood up. The creatures, who had gasped in shock at the
snake's words, gasped again. Son-Bois's eyes flashed with anger.
From his face a black beard grew before their eyes, three feet long,
and as they watched openmouthed, the beard and his hair turned
white. His voice was thunder. "You assume the duties of the gods?
The snake coiled her body over her head in fear.
"From this day, I am Papa-Bois, father of the forest. I am re-
sponsible to the high gods for your behavior. From this day forward,
there v^dll be no rivalry between creatures; from this day, there will
be no fear between creatures and himself, for it is fear that breaks
the heart and molds the He. One lie grows and spreads its pain.
The snake's lie must have caused Gionda much pain and surely
all of us felt pain when we saw her sorrow.
"I command that you love each other, even to the snake; and
though I command love, it is with pain that I know not even the
highest god could make you also give respect. But with love, we
will defeat fear, for fear is our enemy. It drives beast from himself
and man from himself. Then peace is lost."
He told them that his father was indeed a man and to their many
questions about men he said, "They are not like us, they have each a
different face and each must be judged for himself."
Papa-Bois turned from the animals and left them to adjust to his
laws, but this was not difficult for them; they had, for the most part,
lived that way during the reign of Gionda. They knew tliat tliey still
had to face Voum-voom and, as mad as they might be, tliey had
to tolerate her and smile. That would be difficult.
In the Beginning .
Papa-Bois continued to the top of the mountain and remained
in solitude, wise and old with his knowledge.
In the years that passed the forest was a happy place. Papa-Bois
frolicked with his creatures and through the day it rang with a
laughter fit for a heaven. The incident of Voum-voom the snake
was forgotten and, at length, the creatures had almost forgotten
her. Occasionally they would come across her in some dark place
or find her taking the sun, alone on a rock.
It was only upon the arrival of the ancient turtle that they recalled
again the sad events of Gionda's life. Papa-Bois and Morocoy talked
alone and the creatures' only clue was that any appearance of the
turtle was the beginning of some extraordinary event.
When Balei-ji announced that a stranger, a man, approached
the forest, the creatures were all ready to go and greet him. Papa-
Bois commanded them to silence.
It was late in the day when the hunter came off the savannah,
leaning heavily on a staff. He was old and his body felt the tiredness
of death. In his last days he had decided to try again to claim the
protection of the forest. He wanted again his lost peace and joy.
He removed his clothes at the stream and bathed. Carefully he
placed tliem on the rock as he had long ago and he secured them
with another rock. With only his staff he entered the forest. Paths
opened for him and he sighed at the forest's beauty. For many years
he had dreamed of seeing it again.
He heard the murmur of a stream ahead and, bending down, he
picked up some earth, holding it close to his eyes. Even in the dim
light he could tell it was red, it was the same path.
When he came to the stream he fully expected to see Gionda
there, but instead he saw in the black depths of the reeds familiar
twin stars. Memories of fear overtook him and he raised his stafi^ to
strike the creature who, he had come to reahze, tricked him from
the forest. But he let the staff fall. "Voum-voom, let us have no
more pain," he said.
Papa-Bois appeared from the trees and the hunter, shocked by
this creature, half man, half beast, shouted with all the voice he
had left, "Giondal Gionda!"
"Gionda?" Papa-Bois asked.
The hunter froze. Papa-Bois laughed and the forest shook. It was
the laughter of a god that echoed to Venezuela. The creatures of
the forest joined in his laughter and the hunter fainted.
He awoke in the lair that the creatures had built for Gionda and
him. Not knowing where he was, he looked around and his eye
caught sight of his bow and the packet of arrows hanging from the
vaulted ceiHng. He took them down and, placing them to his knee,
one by one, he broke them. Then he went out into the sun.
There all the creatures he had known were assembled and they
greeted him: Oxoto the owl, Balei-ji the parrot, Ef-la the flamingo,
and all the creatures, even the snake, who hung her head in shame.
"Be happy, Voum-voom, as I am happy," he said to her. He bowed
to Papa-Bois and Balei-ji introduced him. "Tliis is Papa-Bois, father
of the forest; he rules us now."
"What of Gionda?" the hunter asked fearfully.
"Come to the pool," Papa-Bois commanded. All the creatures
trailed them as they set off.
"Will she be there?" the hunter asked.
Papa-Bois laughed. "The years have not given you patience. No,
she will not be there but she awaits you elsewhere."
"Where? When can I go?"
"Soon, very soon."
At the edge of the pool Papa-Bois said, "Look into the pool and
The himter looked and he smiled. He was as young to see as
when he had first come to this place and he laughed as he under-
stood its meaning.
Papa-Bois said nothing, only knew. He led the hunter to the sea
path; the creatures of the forest sang and called their farewells.
Papa-Bois seated him on tlie back of the turtle and the forest paths
opened as they journeyed to tlie sea.
In the Beginning
Papa-Bois went up to the moimtaintop and he sat laughing with
joy as he imagined his mother's face at some pool, in some forest
far across the waters of the sea in Venezuela. The hunter and the
deer would enact, as they had here, the ritual of creation again and
again in the forests across the eartli.
Revolt . .
The gentle— too gentle— and doomed Arawak Indians called their
island Haiti, the high place. Three centuries after the old gold
hunter, Columbus, came it would be again Haiti. But now, it was
St. Dominique, French, and utterly devoid of Arawaks. The Spanish,
their smallpox, their enslavement, and their wanton killing had ex-
terminated the native Indians.
The French built their finest city. Cap Fran9ais, on the northern
coast; in sumptuous luxury it lay in an arc along the curve of a bay,
protected at its back by fortified hills and, tliough cut off from the
sea by close-knit reefs, its bay had, however, an easily defendable
passage making it invulnerable from attack. No unfriendly bucca-
neer ventured into its waters; no ship had cannon powerful enough
to hurl a ball over the distance from reef to city.
The wealth that poured into this city from the virgin plains south
and east was legendary. It sent from its port this year, 1791, half
the cotton, cofiFee, and sugar that all Europe consumed. A jewel,
the French called it, the Paris of the New World. Planters and
merchants built exquisite villas; they could afford to fill them with
luxuries that only the nobles of the old France had ever hoped
to purchase. They piled up gold francs. They held African slaves
in hundreds of thousands. Languidly they sat in their gentle ease on
the lip of ruin.
A church bell rang serenely in the crystal air. It was Sunday
morning in early August. A nine-o'clock sun cast its gold light on
a white wood mansion that sat proudly on a step of the seaward
hill. Cap Franyais lay below, pale pink, white and blue of houses,
dark and humid of green bush and trees. Around the house the
eager growth of the tropics had been pushed and cut and sheared
back to a safe distance; a border of lawns was forced to tameness,
their flat green subverted here and there by tenacious vines that
bred sharp yellow flowers. The great house was painted; its white-
ness a cold rebuff to the luxuriant, ragged world of greens around
it. White jalousies were open; cream lace curtains blew in the trade
Along the road that swimg by the grounds a little Negro man
passed. He was a slave of the Gueitards, called Albert, a thin,
wrinkled shadow of old Africa. By consent of the masters— so inno-
cent of the blacks— trusted slaves were free on Sundays— some Sun-
days, only some. They let them go about the city, to gather on the
beach for gossip, to sing their odd African songs and, little did the
masters realize, to plan their future.
Free this Sunday, the slave Albert went about his own affairs.
Unknown to the masters, he was a Jionngan, a priest of the native
religion carried from Africa and called Voudoun.
He paused by the baroque iron gate that led to the mansion;
slowly he turned his eyes, squinting, searching the windows of the
house. Even if he did not have a special interest he could not have
missed the sight of the mulatto girl, her long black silken hair flailing
the wind. It was beautiful to see, how the cloud of hair was caught
up by the wind that embroidered it into the lace of the curtains.
"Bonjour, Choucun" he called. "Comment allez-vousF'
She turned from her task and called back, "Tres bien, trds bien."
She waited; none of the tenseness she felt showed as she gathered
tlie flying hair from her childlike face.
The houngan Albert made the sign of the cross on his chest; casu-
ally over it, with two fingers splayed, he traced a circle. Nodding
to her, he bowed slightly and walked on. She wrung out her cloth
in the wooden bucket and continued washing the long panes of
glass, smiling in her perpetual expression of innocence.
From behind the curtain of a second-story window, Gro Jean,
the master of the house and of Choucun too, watched the native
priest make his sign. Quietly he swore.
Below, Choucun sang over her work and the houngan Albert con-
tinued on his way, thinking about her. She was one of his favorite
devotees, a staunch believer in the old gods. It could not be denied;
she was a childish girl for her twenty years, given to fanciful dreams
and conceits. She always spoke to him in proper French, never the
native Creole. Sometimes in every conversation she would confide
again her dream of going to France. A preposterous dream 1 The
colony's magistrates had, long ago, forbidden any travel for mulat-
toes or blacks. And, should they revert to the old laws, certainly
Gro Jean would not free her and pay the fare; he was an old man
with a long history of care for his francs.
New laws of restriction came steadily; all the slaves, blacks and
the young mulattoes, had heard of the proclamations, had heard
the bitter complaints of the masters. The revolution in France had
distiubed trade; shipments of goods had not arrived to keep the
great houses in perfect luxury. And the decree to free all slaves! The
masters had laughed; they swore by the blood of the white king
and sniffed at the commonness of the new regime. It was a strange
world for all men; no one could be siu-e of liis position; it changed
by the day.
Revolt . .
Choucun's position had promised much, but for her it had pro-
duced little. In the whole of the colony there was no more beautiful
girl. Yet it was always something else that made one remember
her, a quality, something behind the intense innocent eyes that could
force wiser ones to look away. A troubled angel might have looked
this way before it gained the wisdom of peace. Oval-faced, high
of breast, lithe as a water bird, she moved in a grace that had no
illusion of grandeur; it had come naturally with breath at her birth.
Always she questioned from large dark eyes the narrow world
she knew, but it was evident from her talk that she wondered most
what rights she should claim if ever she found the courage to ask
for them. And then there was France, too. As he strode down the
hill, the houngan Albert regretted that there was no answer to her
questions, none that he could give.
Choucun stopped her work for a moment to watch the native
priest appear again below, out of a stand of trees. Other slaves,
free for the day, followed him from the woods. They paraded to
the seashore in ceremonial dress, costumes cut from handed-down
clothes, bleached white cotton, red madder-dyed silk, indigo cloth,
and rare pieces of printed calico. They hurried to be in time for
the tides, to give ceremony to the god, Agwe, lord of the seas,
Choucun's protector. The masters would hear their ritual songs and
think them quaint; they would lounge in shaded gardens listening;
a few might even venture to the beach road to look on this strange
gathering and comment on the marvelous exotics.
Choucun returned to her work hurriedly. To finish all her tasks,
she had pulled herself from bed before the sun; two more windows
and she would be finished and free to go. Then with a frown she
reminded herself to open the bedroom windows before she left. Once
it had been Dephradine's work, but Gro Jean had put it on her.
In the past few months, it seemed, he had given her more and
more work on Sundays. Strange! She could remember that before
his son, Ti Jean, had gone off to France, there had been little or
no work for her on the master's holy days.
And Gro Jean changing! Not to meanness, just odd. She caught
him often now watching her with that sad stepped-on-dog look in
his watery blue eyes. Rapidly he was becoming very old; he seemed
to be shrinking in his skin, the huge frame of his bones protruding
For what number of times had she, as a child, sat on the landing
of the staircase and overheard him tell and retell the tale of his
youth, telling them to those now-remembered people who once came
often but came no more.
He was one of the last in from France, with little money, but a
vast strength he must have had. Out on the Plain du Nord he had
with his own hands cleared the first fields and with the help of
a rented slave set out a crop of cane. In five years— this he always
claimed was the most difiicult— he had had to give up working in
the fields in order that shipping and the mill, the management of
his slaves, and innumerable details be attended to. Gradually he
had taken over the lands that surrounded his from weaker, short-
sighted men who gave in to his ofi:'ers of quick gold. He had built
then his mansion and in record time he went to France, returning
with a delicate beauty of far better blood than his owm.
The whole mechanism he had spav^med from those years now
moved by itself; he was no longer needed. As he was unaccustomed
to a life of ease, his days ran at loose ends. Yet, cowed by a fear
of the opinion of those genteel people he had long since driven
away, he could not, as he yearned to do, wrench back control of
the soil that he loved more than the wealth it had given. He slirank
and withered in his dilemma.
And cryingl She had seen him twice now, and when she had
questioned Dephradine for a possible reason, the old black woman
giggled like a crazy child. "I don't be looking for no thrashing, my
mouth is closed." But then some blacks had only contempt for
The old woman had changed too; once she was almost a mother
to Choucun— almost. But always Choucun remembered, if vaguely,
her real mother, proud, never speaking above a whisper, never
smiling, not really. As tlie years passed, she came to realize that
all during that time, six years almost, her mother had been dying.
What difference do their secrets make to me, she thought.
Finished with the windows, she carried the bucket and the cloths
to the kitchen. Dephradine turned from her cooking to watch
Choucun empty the water down the drain trough and hang the
cloths away. As Choucun went back to the door, the old woman
began laughing in her wheezing way; it began and ended in her
"Gro Jean been looking for you," she said, and she hung over
the grate, her shoulders shaking with muted laughter at her private
"What's he want with me now?"
The old slave quieted herself enough to say, "Carriage and horses
going down to town this minute and Gro Jean looking for you "
She broke off into a wheeze of laughter punctuated with snorts.
"Dephradine, you're going crazy in your old age."
Annoyed by the nonsense, Choucun strode through the door, let-
ting it slap sharply shut. As she mounted the staircase she heard
the coach going out the driveway.
Gro Jean will just have to see me when both of us get back, she
thought with some amusement.
Her gait changed to a trot; she ran up the stairs singing in a high
clear voice a song that she made as she went. At the landing of
the stairs she paused before a mirror, fussing with her white dress.
She had put it on when she got up, danger of spots or not. Senseless,
yes, with windows to be scrubbed, but it reminded her that she
was going to the ceremony and it helped drive her through her
work. Taking off her apron, she checked for stains; happily there
were only a few small ones unnoticeable at any distance worth
Ti Jean's room was first. She entered the bedroom of the master's
long-gone son to go about foolish work; Gro Jean had ordered it
aired and cleaned and dusted every day since his son had left for
France. It was like the old man, clean and fuss, one spot of dust
on his baroque treasures and he was bound to shout.
She threw open the jalousies and gave the room only a glance,
ordered as if death had come in it. Singing lazily, she went out
again and entered Gro Jean's room; it wasn't until she was halfway
to the window that she saw him. He lay on the chaise longue, his
eyes closed. Her listless song died. Tiptoeing as quietly as she could,
she went to the windows, unlatched them slowly, near soundlessly,
and turned back to the door.
He was awake; she stood still.
"Have some respect for my rest," he grumbled.
"I thought you went out in the coach," she offered weakly.
"It's no reason for banging doors and singing— or whining, what-
ever that noise is."
"I'm sorry, monsieur." She continued toward the door.
"You just wait a minute." He raised himself heavily and sat up.
Looking back, she saw his face wearing that wry smile she knew
well, an old child's face; he was up to some cleverness. At his first
word she had let her face compose itself into the mask she always
wore for him; no expression was allowed to appear.
"I got a little surprise for you," he said in mock weariness. "Ti
Jean's come back, the coach's gone down for him." He smiled
broadly, very amused.
It became clear, the whole tangle, Dephradine's laughter, the
regular arrival of mail for a period, and Gro Jean's recent habit of
surveying with his telescope the sliips tliat plied the harbor below.
But why? she thought.
"Choucun, you don't seem happy."
"I'm surprised, as you wanted."
Suddenly angry, he pulled himself up and turned on her. "You
knew! Dephradine told you, didn't she?"
"No— I am just surprised."
"And happy too, I suppose."
"And happy, for you especially. Perhaps the house will be again
like it was."
Revolt . . .
"Like it was, eh?" He had gone to a table and with his back to her
he poured brandy in a glass. "You had plans for the day, I suppose?"
"I wanted to walk down to the sea."
"Down with the savages?"
"A girl like you should have some pride— though I couldn't say
She said nothing; her mind stood still, waiting until she could
leave the room.
Taking the glass in both hands, he moved feeblv to the chaise
longue and sat down again. "I want you here for the welcoming.
There will be much to do."
He glanced at her; she stood stiffly, her face unchanged except
perhaps for a slight narrowing of the eyes that looked straight back.
He lowered his.
"Go clean your shoes," he said lamely.
She nodded and remained silent; in her mind she said, "Yes, oh
yes, Master Bull."
She left the room and went slowly along the hall toward the back
of the house. She had been tricked; together the master and the
slave had joined in the buffoonery. But why?
Suddenly, without thought, she bolted, down the hall, down the
stairs, running. As she came out of the house she pulled off her apron
and on the run threw it behind a bush. Instead of going by the
road she took the garden path that led to a woods.
It is late; perhaps, already too late, she thought. She paused for
a moment to remove her shoes, dropping them, and immediately
she began running again down to the sea. Along the way she realized
that she had forgotten a length of cloth to tie the fluted madras
turban necessary to the ceremony, and as she ran, she scanned the
woods as it whipped by in a rush of greens. Near its edge she sighted
a young banana tree and stripped off a pale green leaf, tying it to
her head with her black hair.
Tlie woods ended where the beach began. In a cove along the
bay, near the reefs and the open sea, the devotees to Agwe had
gathered. The houngan Albert stood at the edge of the hard bright
water, his assistants forming a half circle behind. The others, the
devotees, hopped on the hot sand, forming a broken line of twos
and threes back onto the beach. Flags, sacred to the sea god, un-
furled in the breeze, one pure white, one drenched in indigo to
a brilliant electric blue. Both of the flags were decorated with shell,
arranged and sewn on in the shape of a graceful little ship with a
single sail; ribbons of blue and white laced the flags to lengths of
rough saplings that served as poles.
As Choucun ran onto the beach, the houngan Albert had just
raised his sacred rattle; his withered Hps began to form the sacred
word, Immamou. He repeated it, at first without sound, then gradu-
ally, chanting, he repeated, "hnmamou, hmnamoxi . . ." The sound
came from deep in his chest, it took on the quahty of a drum. At the
end of the word he swimg the sacred rattle; it formed the sound of
accent. His assistants picked up the word, the devotees entered, the
Choucun took her place at the end of the line. Many of the eyes
of the group turned on her, the chant faltered, and the houngan
turned, seeing her, fantastic in the banana leaf. The women rustled
and fidgeted. Whenever she entered a ceremony there were those
who resented her presence. She was not one of them; they felt that
she did not belong here. Such a skin was not from any tribe, east,
west, or north of Africa; south, east, or west of France.
Choucun did not allow herself to feel their hostilit}'; she chanted
the invocation of her god. And always, at these times, she remem-
bered her mother, beautiful and black in the now-faint memory of
childhood. This was tlie ritual she gave to her child and Choucun
chanted it ponderously. She remembered how they had knelt to-
gether on the hill overlooking this beach and otlier ceremonies. She
had never known or thought then to question whv they knelt apart.
Her mother stood away from her people; she stood away from the
masters. Quietly she knelt to her god and bowed to all. Gently she
taught her child the ritual to the powerful sea god, Lord Agwe.
Later, after her mother's deatli, it was Albert, newly initiated a
houngan, who took her hand and led her, shy and trembling, to the
The chant had, at length, resumed its verve. A young man using
a small drum beat the rhythm of the sea god. He was handsome to
see, brown black, with almond eyes that were now half closed in
concentration. His name was Diegoto, a slave of the Bonhommes,
whose estate bordered on Gro Jean's. Choucun watched him from
the comer of her eye; he was kneeling in the sand, beating the
rough leather with spread fingers and flat of hand, the drum clenched
between his thighs.
Muted, then sharp, its rhythm washed the mind incessantly like a
surf. It bullied, coaxed, seduced the mind from thought. She wished
that she dared let herself drift into its current, rocking out on its
waves to the white darkness of the gods. There the spirit of Agwe
would mount her soul, riding it like a horse.
The rattle quivered; the chant rose and, arched on the air, it
abruptly stopped. The houngan entered the sea, his rattle held high
in a hand that shuddered and rested, then shuddered again. A group
of men swung around him and, entering the sea, they swam to a
small fishing boat moored in deeper water. The half circle of as-
sistants parted and revealed a small square raft of split logs bound
by rope. The drum set up an undulating beat; the devotees ap-
proached, dancing the simple steps of ritual. From pockets inside
shirts and the bosoms of dresses they produced fruits, a wedge of
cake, a small flask of rum, a perfect shell, a fragment of blue glass,
piling them carefully on the raft. An assistant took from his shirt a
horn made from a conch shell and, raising it to his lips, he blew the
sad long notes that awaken the sea god in liis watery kingdom
beyond the reefs. The houngan Albert was to his waist in the sea,
moving steadily out to the waiting boat.
Six women hfted the raft with its gifts, now bound by indigo-dyed
ropes; they hoisted it to their shoulders and moved into the sea. The
rest of the devotees clustered around them for support; they moved
out to deep water, their white, blue, and yellow skirts billowing in
the blue-green water. A woman slipped, the raft tipped perilously,
and the group staggered to gain balance. A birdlike cry went up
against the chant. Hands moved rapidly. The raft was righted and
they moved again out to deep water.
Sadly Choucun trailed behind; she had come without a gift for
the raft and it troubled her. She imagined a day when she would
arrive bearing a white ram heavy wdth scents and blue ribbon. But
that was not today; she had not even another poor gift for the raft.
At any rate it would take a great gift, a whole banquet for Papa
Agwe, before she would ever dare to help support the raft. Once
she had tried, and though she withstood the jabs of sharp thumbnails,
the women eventually tripped her and as she sank a hand pushed
her head under. The cat-eyed houngan had seen; he stopped the
ceremony and lectured them on their intolerance. But they had
stood fidgeting under the weight of the raft and they had turned
their thinned eyes on her; it was evident that none had changed.
The drum held high over his head, Diegoto waited to wade out
with her. He smiled his frank aflPection. In silence they entered the
water. His kindness made her feel less a stranger and, unmindful
of frov^ms, she playfully splashed water on his sweating chest. He
only smiled and said nothing. It was seldom that his shyness allowed
him to speak, but whenever she too remained silent, he always,
obviously, forced himself to say something. His words were from a
good heart, inevitably kind.
"I will not go out on the boat," she said, **I must go back soon.'*
His face saddened. "Gro Jean look hard on you?"
"No, Ti Jean's come home." She gestured to the frigates that nested
deep in the bay. "Tliere will be much to do for the home-coming."
Diegoto leaned to whisper, "I hear a great white teU he is dis-
graced—he live fast and bad in France."
Choucun remembered the thin, weak pole of a boy who sailed off
three years ago. Seventeen, he was, but no hint of a man showed.
Possibly out from under his hard father he may have gone wild,
but it was unlikely. She had never seen revolt in his eyes.
"It is possible, but I doubt it," she said.
Diegoto waited expectantly; it was always Choucun who was to
lead the way.
**I will be walking the garden when the sun sets," she said as
noncommittally as possible.
"I will be there," he returned simply, and he smiled happily as he
waded out toward the boat.
Choucun returned to the shore, stopping now and then to watch
the others. The houngan Albert, his back to the mast of the boat,
rang the bell of Agwe. The raft that had not touched water was
hauled aboard. The devotees scrambled up over the sides; a sail,
patched but reasonably white, was unfurled. The deep voice of a
woman began the song of praise to the sea god. Its words were
African, chanted in a rhythm that called over the bright sea, a flicker-
ing glare in the morning sun. The boat moved; the uninhibited
voices of the grateful joined v^dth the woman's singing to Agwe,
sweet and loud. They echoed against the hill and out to the bottom of
the sea where the god waited.
Choucun saw in her mind the rest of the ceremony: the boat
would pass the channel in the reefs and when it reached its yet-
unknown destination in open sea, the boat would be tipped, nimble
hands would slide the raft on the surface of the water, a conch
horn would trumpet its moan, and the sacred bell would ring to
summon the god to his feast. The drifting raft would spread indigo
in the sea and as the boat of worshipers moved away, they would
see the raft sink suddenly as if a hand had snatched it under.
On his subterranean island, in a place of blue and green, Agw6
would eat their humble offerings and know the love of his people
Choucun looked back wistfully, wishing that she could be on the
boat that, now under sail, was rapidly making for the reefs.
The masters would be watching from the v^dndows of the city, the
exotic sight would entertain them, and since the boats of trusted
slaves always returned, they had no fear of losing their property.
Choucun wandered up the beach; the effects of the drum, the
bell, their rhythm, took her back to childhood, a time of love. She
drifted in ennui, back to her mother's caressing hands; nothing
seemed as important as holding on to the memory of warmth that
welled up in her mind. But the memory blurred; a rebellious spirit
rose in its place; whenever she returned she wouldl If she walked for
a Httle perhaps the bitterness in her throat would sink again into its
nest in her stomach.
She came off the hot beach to walk for a while on the cobblestone
road that led to the center of town; through the alley of trees she
could see where the walls of villas ended and the Hne of shops
began. People, far away, hke luminous moths, flitted from one side
of the road to the other for shelter from the sun, then disappearing
into the shadows under curly iron balconies, arcades, or the deep
shade of a laurel tree.
Choucun undid the banana leaf from her hair and tore part of it
away to fan herself. She was wet to the shoulders, steaming in the
late morning sun; the pretty white dress was a ruin; it clung like a
skin. Where a low wall was built along the road to protect it in
violent storms Choucun sat letting the sun dry her, letting quiet
and dullness take its usual seat in her mind.
There was no point in going around the town, forbidden by Gro
Jean and so tempting as the result; barefoot, in a wet dress, and
hanging hair she could only gain the sneers and laughter of the
blacks. She longed to see mulattoes like herself, to see how they
got on, out in the world. But she got up and started back along the
road that steadily climbed the hill to the gates of tlie house.
A carriage hastened toward her on the road. She moved to the
trees for protection from its dust. As she glanced up when it
passed a white dandy in lace and satin stared back at her. A monocle
decorated what was otherwise a boyish face. He touched liis English
hat to her and smiled.
Mon Dieu! Ti Jean!
She bolted into the trees, running for the path she had come by.
His laughter followed her. Somewhere along the path she had
dropped her shoes, where? But she didn't stop until she reached the
Gro Jean was calling her, his voice snapped in anger. She pulled
herself to an abrupt halt behind a hibiscus hedge and then walked
slowly toward the kitchen door, gaining her breath again. There
was Httle hope that she could manage to dress and comb her hair
and devise an excuse, too. Dephradine opened a jalousie on the
second floor above her.
"Here she is, here she is," she called gleefully.
Gro Jean, followed by Ti Jean, hurried from the front of the house.
Choucun turned to face them; she called upon the trick of her mind
that pulled her face to a mask, reflecting nothing, and stood her up,
Ti Jean ran quickly around his father, **Choucun?" he asked,
smiling. She felt ugly and naked under his gaze; she said nothing.
The part of her mind that ruled now refused to let her flinch or
lower her eyes.
"Enchanting, enchantingi" he chirped.
Turning to his father, he said, "Our Httle bird's been taking the
Gro Jean shoved him aside and his lip pursed into a perfect circle,
his nose pinching itself to incredible thinness. Before she was ready,
his hand swung; the blow knocked her off balance. Immediately she
righted herself and waited passively.
"Gol" he shouted. "Savagel"
Inside the kitchen shock and humiliation struck her; she fumbled
through the doors, up steps until she reached the second-floor hall-
way. Below she could hear the father lecturing the son on the present
audacity of slaves. Fiercely she pulled back the feeling, the trick. It
came at her command, dreamlike and protective, stopping tears.
She sauntered down the hall, past her room, to the mirror at the
landing of the stairs. In it her face had no expression at all; the
eyelids had fallen to a look of sleepiness.
The master and his son moved in the foyer below and mounted
the stairs. Before they reached the landing, she was behind her
She found Dephradine, who shared the room with her, mending
from a basket of clothes. The old woman raised her wrinkled head,
"How come you be too wet, bird?"
Choucun busied herself stripping oflF the wet dress. She held to
The old woman giggled, "You know now Ti Jean's come home, eh?
Gro Jean say to us, don't tell Choucun for she too smart to see. Now,
you get fooled 1 Paiwre ti oiseati, pauvre ti oiseau . . ."
The Creole words annoyed Choucun; they recalled other times
when, as a child weeping, she was gathered in the old black woman's
arms and sung to: pauvre ti oiseau, poor little bird. The protection
that the old woman began had soured to betrayal.
"Don't you be mad at old Dephradine; one knock for you is less
for me," she reasoned. "I got to do; thinking I no more used to.
You go to ceremony? The spirit did come? Yes? No? Oh, don't be
mad at Dephradinel What gifts they bring Papa Agwe?"
Choucun pulled on her oldest, most threadbare dress, for the ugly
spite of wearing it. Out of the bottom of her sea chest, a relic of her
mother, she dug a tattered pair of scuff sHppers, too small, her heels
hung over the backs. She pulled out a length of white cloth and
bound up her wild hair.
"Ti oiseau," the old woman moaned playfully. "Oh, come out here,
you get too old for that kind of thingl" she said angrily.
A black arm was thrust before her, every muscle showed in relief,
the dark skin was marked by countiess little scars of hot grease
from years over the kitchen grate. A black hand pointed to tlie arm,
each knuckle thick and wrinkled, each nail like a bird's talon.
"Lookl Is black."
Choucun laid her arm beside Dephradine's and, looking into the
old woman's eye, she asked, "Is it wliite?"
Dephradine looked away, "Oh, ti oiseau, you too old, yet too young.
I don't know." She turned back and quietly implored in a whisper,
"You get news of the runnmg?"
"You know I could not stay out the ceremony— notliing was said."
Revolt . .
"Like as I hear what been talked and retalked gets planned out
"There is too much loose talk.**
"It's plain, little talk to you." The old woman clucked her tongue,
then jabbed an elbow at Choucun and played a shy girlishness,
head bent, eyes up.
"I hear, by way, you got hold a boy, that Diegoto. Black as night
he is. Saves you much suspicion."
Choucun sighed and said wearily, "I am one of you."
"In the heart you be a black, indeed. I tell everybody so. But
look in the mirror, bird, no such skin traveled short way from Africa."
"I cannot help the skin."
"And folks don't help but noticel" Dephradine returned angrily.
''We got a reason for doubts, yellow thinks yellow, white thinks white.
Now black best think black." She patted Choucun's arm. "Walk sure,
girl, mind nothing but heart, then, no harm can come, eh? When
the running starts you got to be plain for all eyes to see— and I
She rose and dropped a mended shirt in the basket. "I go cook
the great feast for the home-coming child," she said airily, and she
went out, leaving Choucun alone.
A heaviness hung over Choucun; the world seemed bhnd to every-
thing that seemed obvious to her. She released her mind, letting it
range and wander in search of some way, something dramatic, that
would make everything untangle and stand clear. But what?
Near five o'clock that afternoon Choucun washed the scents and
grime of vegetables from her arms. While Dephradine cooked she
could dare to slip into the garden for a time. She put on her best: a
dress of yellow organdy with three tiers of skirts that were figiued
on the hem, the bodice ribboned high under her breasts. Turning
before the mirror on the landing, she was more beautiful in it than
Madame La Satte, who had worn it first.
This once-beautiful lady, now old, Gro Jean*s only friend, often
borrowed her help before one of the grand fetes, balls, or masquer-
ades she gave. Even though beauty had shpped from her grasp, she
still held power in the city— her invitation was displayed as a surety
of having reached society. Where genuine noble blood was a rarity,
she chose from among the landowners those whom she created into
the colony's society. Curiously, for all her power, no one seemed to
have a bad word for her.
To Choucun an aura of warmth came from the lady, and, from
her, bold, unbelievable compliments came too. Choucun heard such
words from no one else; in the friendless house of Gro Jean few
people ever came who would speak to her and Gro Jean had only
words for orders and reprimands. Always, just before it was time for
Choucun to return, Madame La Satte would begin her ritual. From
a wardrobe she would select a dress or bring ribbon or cloth from
a drawer and ask if Choucun could possibly find some use for "this
old thing" or "that useless piece of nothing"; she tried never to make
it difficult to take. It was questionable if she had ever worn the
Choucun whirled to see the delicate skirts float out. She caught
up the last skirt in one hand and curtsied to the mirror. Dissatisfied
with her hair hanging in a tangled mass, she ran to her room and
bound it up with a piece of white ribbon. Then she went back to
the mirror and said an elaborate farewell to her reflection.
On her way to the kitchen she hummed; the day had turned out
better than she had hoped. Gro Jean hadn't said a word to her
when she served luncheon and it was obvious that Ti Jean didn't
dare. There was almost a pleasure in not being noticed; no danger
lay in it.
In the kitchen Dephradine turned from her cooking to cluck ap-
proval of the dress, wiping her hands scrupulously to touch the
delicate cloth. Choucun took from its hook a bird cage that held her
pet. She whistled to the httle yellow bird inside and went out into
"You come back soon, I can't cook food and serve it too," Deplua-
dine called after her.
The sun was low but not setting yet; Choucun wandered through
the garden, meandering over its many graveled paths. She hummed
and sang; the bird joined in to chirp and whistle a duet. Trouble
seemed at the end of the sea; it was difficult not to run and bounce
gaily. But she was under the demands of the dress and she moved
leisurely, as a great lady might. Under her assumed role she felt as
gay as when she was a child; she was going to meet someone who
loved her; it drained off her sadness and made her feel new again.
At the stone wall that separated Gro Jean's estate from the Bon-
hommes' she sat down, still early for her appointment. And, restless,
she got up again. To amuse herself, she kicked off her slippers and,
holding the bird cage close, she danced round and round a red-
flowering hibiscus. In the fading day she was a princess; her father
was a great king. Someday he would come to claim her and every
wish she had would be granted. She would travel on a white frigate
to France, her hair bound with jewels, and every finger would be
covered with rings. She would take Diegoto as her brother and
dress him in satin breeches . . .
The dream ceased suddenly. Diegoto as my brother, she thought
again, and against what was nameless she became angry. The sun
was setting! Where was he?
She turned to sit again— there was a flicker of movement in the
trees. Standing beneath a red-fruited almond tree the houngan
Albert smiled at her. She ran to him and laid her hand on his.
Whistling curiously in her throat, she burst into tears without, it
seemed, a reason. She covered her face with her hand and sank on
the earth, weeping out the passions of the day. The native priest
patted her head and gently sighed, over and over, "Ti oiseau, ti
oiseau . . ."
"I wanted to go out on the boat today," she said through tears, "and
I had no gift for Agwe."
"It doesn't matter, Choucun, the lord Agwe is a part of the great
god who sees and understands all things. Our gifts are for oiu:
pleasure in giving. Do you think the god of the sea needs them?"
Choucun contemplated the words. Hers was a faith given by her
mother; it was a link back to the safety of a loving kiss and a gentle
hand. There had been no time for learning theology. She clung only
to the sea god and ventured no further.
When her tears allowed, she said, "Gro Jean knew where I was
today, he knows about the gods. He called me savage. I don't think
I'll ever get to go out on the boat again, he will sure find some way
to stop me," and she wept bitterly.
"Listen to me, child, this is yours to do with as you will: it is trust.
I will give no more ceremonies here. Time runs out for all of us,
white, black and mulatto alike. But true to the vow I gave your
mother, I will protect you in the best way I can."
"My mother ... It has been so long since we talked of her. Tell
me something more."
"I have told you everything, many times."
Choucun was seized with a sudden brazenness. "Today— just a
moment ago— I had a thought, about my father. Did my mother
ever speak of him?"
"No!" The houngan almost snorted the word.
"I was thinking he might come and claim me one day . . .'*
"Seems to me he'd have done it by now, if he had a mind to.'*
The old man was quiet for a moment; he gazed away at nothing
and at memory. She had seen him, at least, weekly all the years she
remembered, even when she had a mother; yet it was at this mo-
ment that she saw him freshly, as happened to her so often. Familiar
things came into a sight that telescoped them, familiarity vanished,
and they were as if totally new. His head of withered skin hung like
a soft leather sack over his skull and draped around his chin in
deep furrows, its color, a black with purple in the highlights, scuffed
in mottled patches of brown. She had not noticed before, his hair
had changed— it must have surely. She remembered it as black and
now it was a white cap of straggly wool. The eyes that looked away
were yellowed in tlieir whites, encased in double folds of lid above
and sagging skin below. So sad a httle man he looked, but it was only
her knowledge of his eyes that gave him away. They were gentle
now, but she had seen them flash into the hardness of a hawk's.
He turned from her gaze and said simply, "1 loved your mother.
Revolt . . .
Once we planned to run to the hills together— as soon as I was fully
initiated a houngan. Then, when you were coming, she spoke of it
no more. And when I became a priest to Agwe she was already gone."
He was quiet again, his lower lip stuck out like a pouting child's.
Presently he turned to her and said, "In so few words one can tell
all thaf s necessary about a life— and it is my life . . ."
His eyes held hers; they were ancient but, curiously, they had an
expression of childlike innocence.
The whistle startled them; the houngan had quickly faded into
the trees before Choucun could tell him not to fear. It was Diegoto
whistling the call of her pet bird and badly; however, the little bird
answered and flitted merrily at the attention it promised.
Diegoto leaped the low wall easily; his large, sinewy frame showed
in every movement its easy power. He smiled only, the teeth radiant
against his dark skin. His face took on a look of confusion as Choucun
sullenly turned to him. His gait slowed. He hesitated. In him there
were no ready words. But she saw a change about him, a certain
cast of the eye.
"I sure been here long enough waiting for you," Choucun
He frowned and naively checked the sky. "Sun is setting.**
Annoyed, Choucun flicked a hand at him and looked away. The
happiness she expected was not in her; he seemed like a child
masquerading in a powerful body. His smile irritated her and she
Diegoto sat on the grass and stretched out his body. His saddened
almond eyes watched her and he waited patiently for some move-
ment or word that would signal her welcome.
Over the grass she sauntered in her fine yellow dress, holding the
cage up and pursing her lips, producing little clucking sounds for
the fluttering bird. She was drifting away to the graveled path. He
leaped up and strode to her. With infinite gentleness but firmly he
turned her around.
"The sun is setting, yes or no?" It was gentle but a demand.
For a moment she teetered on the edge of anger, then she giggled
Revolt . .
and, led by him, they settled on the warm grass and laughed sense-
lessly. She reported the incident with Gro Jean, Dephradine's be-
trayal, and Ti Jean's return.
"Houngan Albert was here just before you came— your whistle
frightened him away."
Diegoto frowned, his eyes narrowing. "He tell you something?*'
There it was, once again: the distmst of the blacks. She felt
separated, far away from anyone, and the feeling of loneliness was
"Yes. He told me everything," she said saucily. "I know all about
the running, when and how and— every thing," she lied. "The houngan
is my friend, even if you're not!"
Diegoto laughed heartily. "Nobody knows when, only the houngan
himself. I don't think he told you nothing."
"Think what you will, no matter what I say," she said airily, and,
getting up, she unhurriedly brushed herself off. Setting a look of
indifference on her face, she walked away, to turn sharply back for
her bird and slippers, and then, without a glance at him, she strode
"Choucun," he called, "you don't be mad at me?"
She hesitated. The independence she wanted to feel was too dear;
one face that smiled at her, too rare to leave.
It was the look of a miserable child she turned back at him. She
himg her head. Quickly he was embracing her, calling her name in
a whisper. "Choucun, ti oiseau . . ."
"There is no one to want to trust me," she whimpered.
"It is me, I will trust you."
She waited for some confession, but he only held her and said
Pulling away, she said dully, "111 get another slap if I'm late."
She could not bring herself to smile, and, holding her bird cage
close, she left him, feeling ugly and silly in a fine dress that had lost
its charm. Her bird chirped merrily as she hurried along the gravel
path listening only to the pebbles crunch and not thinking.
Diegoto watched her go, he felt no distrust of her, he already
knew what they, the houngan and himself, could do to protect her
most. As close to the house as he dared go he followed her. Somehow
there was a way to reassure her, but with all the dangers that preyed
on him his world was a maze and the way out to her he could not
That evening in the delicately elegant dining room Choucun
served dinner. Father and son maintained their silence. Over them,
staring down with an air of wan boredom, the portrait of the lady of
the house watched. The room and its people were her creations.
The walls were covered in panels of damask where woven Indian
roses trailed down to the floor. Glass bells protected tiny figurines
playing hide-and-seek among dried flowers, now pale and crumbling.
Above the door, frozen in flight, a gilded crane peered down. Candle-
less baroque sconces in crystal and bronze lined the walls; no longer
were they lit; only the delicate chandelier with gemlike baubles of
crystal, hung to form a gathering of stars, was maintained for light.
The two men sat on her frail chairs, ate from her gilt-edged plates,
dipped custard with her fantastic silver wrought in the shape of a
swan. She had renamed the estate Swan's Garden in honor of the
spoon's arrival and they initiated a design in her formless irritation
at the world that surrounded her.
At her order a stream of objects arrived from France, each wrought
or molded or carved in the shape of the bird that was a symbol of
the gentle old world where nothing barbaric ever ruffled the flow
When her strength failed and her personal miseries, a great tangle
of suspicions of everyone, cropped up into a wall that pressed too
close upon her, her mind narrowed its vision to only the bird. Not
even her priest could dissuade her from her last creation, a sarcopha-
gus cut in marble to simulate a giant swan, planned so that its wings
folded protectively around her. Her end came suddenly, though not
so soon as she may have wished; she produced too early her sickly
child and fled into death.
Gro Jean rose and, standing, gulped his coffee down. Ti Jean
followed. He smiled at Choucun and bowed mockishly. She cleared
the table, taking the soiled dishes out to the kitchen, where Dephra-
dine waited impatiently for them.
The coachman, Henri, sometimes Dephradine's husband, was with
her. They spoke in the tongue they had brought from Africa, frown-
ing at her. She set the tray of dishes on a sideboard near the old
woman, who snatched it roughly away. Choucun started. A chip on
the revered lady's china brought a storm from Gro Jean.
Dephradine plucked up a tiny cup; she lifted it slowly, high above
her head, and then she let it drop. It shattered on the floor and she
cackled as if she had gone mad. Choucun only sighed wearily; at the
end of the week Gro Jean would come counting and she would have
either to betray the old woman or suflFer the knocks.
She went out into the garden, cool with the first of evening. A
moon, softly apricot, hung in its lilac sky. The hill that rose behind
the house was misty in the leavings of the day, quiet and preying on
the landscape. A confusion whirlpooled in her head; she sat numbly.
Gradually her mind sought out thoughts that never failed to bring
her happiness: her dream of France. As a mulatto, when she was
twenty-four, according to long tradition she should be freed. All
mulattoes had been given that right over the law of the white king.
But the French had imprisoned him on his throne, she had heard;
perhaps the tradition was imprisoned too. One day soon, at any risk,
she must sneak off to town and ask another mulatto. Maybe the
houngan Albert knew. At any rate, she thought, when she was free
she would go to France. With constant faith from her how could
Lord Agwe not grant her wish?
With the thought she turned back to the house feeling the return
of a little peace. She went up the stairs heavily to set the masters'
beds and find her own.
A few evenings later in the middle of the dinner hour the first drum,
"the body," sounded from the hills above the city. They were not
unusual; the city's diners hardly noticed. They knew that a troop of
guards would ride up into the bush and scout around, then return
empty-handed. The elusive runaways were rarely trapped; they were
for a moment dark specters in a mass of night's foHage and then they
disappeared before the eye. It was common knowledge that a few
runaways dared hide as near as the hills that rose around the town
and larger numbers hid in the high mountains across the plains. The
drums called most every night, but the masters assured themselves
that only the fierce Congoes had the courage to run. Those they held
were kept in chains at night or, at least, under constant watch.
It wasn't until the second set of drums began, "the blood," that
anyone really noticed. But still, they were only different in sound
and a few of the masters noted that. Almost immediately the third
set of drums entered, "the voice of Ogoun," the war god, making a
Dogs barked; their delicate ears smarted under the fierceness of
The servants of Cap Fran9ais held their lackluster eyes down;
seemingly there was no change.
In the dining room of Gro Jean's mansion Choucun served the
food badly; she had no idea what the dnuns meant but she sensed
their importance. She rushed the dinner. A bone slid dangerously
near the edge of the plate as Choucun took it from the table. Ti Jean
reared back to save his satin breeches.
"Mind yoiu- work," Gro Jean commanded.
As she went to the kitchen, she heard him say to Ti Jean, "It's the
drums, they talk to these people." He laughed.
Years of being around the Africans had, if not given him much
knowledge, made him sensitive to their ways. He was startled to
sense a peculiar danger as near as his shoulder. It seemed that
somewhere in his memory he had heard these drums before.
Ti Jean sat innocently. All his childhood he had heard the drums
and, separated from the slaves, he had no notion of their meaning. It
was a delight to him after the mob revolts in France to sit at a la\ish
dinner and feel pleasantly endangered in a barbaric but safe land.
Choucun came with a tray of sweets and coffee; behind her
Depkradine shouted through the closing door, "Coffee is servedl"
and her cackling laughter was audible after the door had shut.
Gro Jean started. He looked at Choucun, "Has she gone mad?*'
Choucun hfted the mask of her face and said calmly, "It is the
heat, sir, she is much affected being old."
Her calmness brought up anger in him. "Ask her if it's hotter in
Africa," he said contemptuously. "And keep her quiet."
Choucun nodded, but before she could lay the cups Dephradine
began singing a wild chanting invocation in her native tongue.
Choucun hurriedly went to the kitchen.
"He'll kill you!"
She was dancing; her old body undulated with the rhythm of
the drums. She had torn off her headcloth, her white hair stood out
in a great puff, and she playfully snapped the headcloth at Choucun.
Her song collapsed into her odd laughter and she sprinted to the
dining-room door and kicked it. The swinging door shuddered on
its springs, flapping open and shut.
Gro Jean came through it. He hesitated, this soulless old cook
was whirHng in a frantic dance, her eyes flashed with a life he had
never seen in them. She stopped presently and curtsied grandly to
him, then she fell to giggling.
"Get her up to her room," he snapped at Choucun. He counted
the cost of a new slave in a rising market: it was certain that she
would cook no more.
And she wouldn't, not for him. As soon as he left she stopped
giggling long enough to announce to Choucun, "I'm going to no slave
market, never more." Taking a knffe and sHding it expertly in her
belt, she left the kitchen to those who owned it and she ran from the
house. Her laughter drifted through the garden for a moment, then
she let silence and night swallow her.
She took the hill that rose behind the house, going toward the sea
first, then swinging back toward the range that led inland. She ran
like a fox, her old body feeding on its reserved strength, strength
that no one suspected in her, but strength she had carefully ac-
cumulated. In less than an hour she had reached the crest of the
second hill and she passed the first sentry on a curse in her native
tongue. Humming an invocation to the war god, Ogoun, she made
her way rapidly through pathless bush and forest to the next sentry.
The sound of her humming had the cadence of an insect and, spotted
in the moonlit hills, similar sounds moved and gathered into a
In a clearing edged by trees the vever of the war god was drawn
on the earth. Dephradine arrived in time to see a houngan bending
over and drawing the symbol with corn meal trickling from his fist.
He was not a houngan she had seen before; there was no one as yet
who had a familiar face.
From a flask rum was sprinkled on the earth and poured in a
shallow clay bowl. A drum sounded, the flat of a hand slapping the
hide; a bundle of twigs switched another drum; from the dark trees
other drums joined, each with its own beat, joining to a mind-
numbing sound. The guttural chant of the priest rose against them;
the ceremony to the war god began.
New people drifted in from over the hill, assistants instructed
them, they gathered and moved into a dance. Their chant was a
prayer, loud and fierce, for protection and victory.
In the orange light of the resin torch the houngan held a fluttering
chicken in one hand; a knife caught a flicker of light in the other.
The bird squawked lustily in its fear. An assistant moved forward
with a basin. Descending against the knife, the bird snapped in its
flight and shuddered as its blood flowed into the receptacle.
Like an invisible hand among the dancers, one here, one there,
they crumbled, their bodies twisting into possession. Others of the
dancers moved in to support the fallen figures. The war god spoke
through them, crying, as was his way, in the pain of wounds. Ogoun
was among them and his presence was a sign that his blessing was
The drums droned their waves of sound as if inevitable, like the
sea tides or the eternal movements of stars. The dancers rode those
waves, rising and falling, with the possessed dropping from their
supporting arms to lie in tears beside their pounding feet.
Revolt . . .
Henri, the coachman, arrived and fell in with the dancers beside
Dephradine. They smiled shyly at each other like children.
As suddenly as they seemed inevitable the drums stopped. A
sound came over the hill from another drum; its sound had the
lament of hungry cattle lowing in the night. The drummers fled down
the hill; the dancers followed, supporting the still-numbed figures
of those who had been possessed. They heard on another hill a
gathering of drums take up the rhythms of Ogoun; a volley of musket
fire coughed rapidly on the hill toward the sea.
Within minutes the clearing was empty except for the houngan,
who brushed and covered the vever sign. He found the clay bowl
where the rum had burned out and drank off what was left. Without
haste he gathered whatever paraphernalia of the ceremony had been
left behind, a decorated rattle, a raglike flag of red; he moved slowly
into the trees. Only moonlight was left to those who came after.
But a hiss in the trees would lead them to guides and instructions
on their flight to the interior, the safety of deep forests and mountain
The city of Cap Frangais was quiet under the drums, only the
dogs set up their row. Slowly lights were extinguished; servants
dismissed for the night left the houses silently, taking some long-
planned back route to the designated hill. They never traveled to-
gether. Singly they moved in the shadows until they were outside
the city and there roads were forbidden. They took the hardest
and safest route through the brush to the hill.
In Gro Jean's garden Diegoto waited until the lights of the house
went out. A lamp flickered among the shutters and then flared in
the room he knew to be Choucun's. He moved forward.
This evening had been a constant terror for Choucun. It was
evident that the running had begun. She fulfilled her duties with
careful deliberation so that the house seemed unchanged. There was
the constant danger that one of the masters would ask for Henri; it
was certain that he too had run. Or she might be questioned about
Dephradine. Gro Jean might even want to see whether the old
woman were a total loss or not.
Earlier she had decided to nin too, but without knowledge of the
plans it was a frightening chance. And with these thoughts she
remembered Dephradine's warning that her position must be clear
and she feared that a knife might wait for her in the dark trees.
She placed the lamp on her sea chest and sat heavily on the bed.
The air was oppressively thick with the smell of flowers and the
salty tang of the sea. It served to intensify her restlessness in the
silent room, strange without the wheeze and snore of Dephradine.
How she had loved it once when briefly Dephradine was delayed
from her bed and it seemed to be her room only. She rose and blew
out the lamp; in the dark she stripped off her clothes and dropped
them on her bed. Fumbling in the closet, she found by feel her rough
cotton robe and, slinging it on, she went to the open window to try
to catch some fresh air.
Out in the night they were all moving toward the drums in the
hills; she saw in her mind their scrambling over walls, through the
shadows of moonlit gardens— some would be caught. She remembered
the gunfire earlier— some would be killed. But every day there were
stories afloat, or so Dephradine said, of slaves flogged to death, flung
alive in vats of boiling sugar, or simply shot down. Out on the
plantations a slave was as a pea in a great harvest; right and wrong,
laws, applied only to whites. Those running tonight had lived most
of their days in the civilized world, of Cap Fran^ais, far from the life
on the plantations, but being daily near the whites made their posi-
tion more constant, more unbearable.
There was the danger of traitors. But everyone was fearful of the
hill people who sought out their enemies and silently killed with
the knife. A chill passed over her as she thought of the number of
those running now who felt her an intruder and even an enemy.
There was the chance that the houngan Albert would yet come for
her; he had promised protection. But immediately the thought fol-
lowed: from those nmning, the blacks, her life needed most protec-
On the roof of the kitchen that slanted dowai below her window
Choucun saw Diegoto's hands and then his black figure rise over its
edge and move toward her. Her skin drew itself to goose flesh. In
the half-Hght the figure seemed unreal, a dark spirit moving over the
moonht slates, seeking her out. She fearfully stepped back into the
room and faltered against tlie edge of a bed; in her mind she searched
the dark room for a weapon. The figure moved swiftly and sHd into
the room with a shght scuff of sound.
"Choucun?" Diegoto whispered.
For a moment she could believe that he had come to kill her— a
black after all— and quickly she gave a thin short cry and pounced on
him, embracing him and weeping hard and quietly. He held her gently
until the chill of fear quivered out of her. Slowly a warmth returned.
"I didn't think you would come."
She pulled away from him, already, gathering her belongings in
her mind. Roughly he snapped her back against liim; her arms hurt
under the pressure of his hands.
"Diegoto," she whimpered, "we got to hurry."
"There's time," he muttered. She felt an oddness in him. He held
her without moving, binding back her arms, his body tense and nerve-
less. In her mind she began the wheel of questions. Why did
he come? Why is there time? Why . . . P Viciously against her mind
she cut them off and with them the fear that had begun to rise again.
She relaxed in his grip.
His breath was pungent with a smell of ripe fruit, the musk from
his body seemed heavy on heavy air, but against him, with the feel
of arms clasped around her, she felt a perfect security. And she let
herself drift in an old, half -remembered dream, the caresses of child-
Abruptly, as if he had broken the inertia that held him, he fondled
her gently. A sadness washed over her; scenes long forgotten came
sharply real, the lovely dark mother repeating her constant answer:
"I don't know, child," and weeping . . . The two of them had held
onto each other tightly and among their kisses they wept.
Choucun clung to Diegotto and, as fiercely as he, she embraced
him and returned his caresses. Slowly she detached herself from him
and, taking his hand, she sought out her bed in the dark room; with-
out a thought or fear she turned herself over to liiin.
Nearer two hours later they remembered time, and slowly they
began to shake off their indolence. In the darkness they each moved;
each had his thoughts, leaping back and taking control. Happiness
slipped away rapidly and soon they were tense and again strangers.
But each played as if it weren't true.
Excitedly Diegoto told her of his coming venture. He was given
the duty to wait until the last hours of morning or until there was
plentiful gunfire and while the runaways made good their escape
he was to fire the warehouse that lay nearest the sea, near the beach
where they had often met at the ceremonies.
Modestly and boyishly he told of the dangers. A skiff stolen earlier
would wait for him, and after the firing they would have to row past
the fortified hills, through the passage in the reefs, before they could
hoist the sail. Once beyond gunshot and cannon they would journey
east, sailing along the coast until they reached a point where the
mountains touched the sea.
During his tale Choucun grew irritated; the running seemed sense-
less, like a children's game that was played long ago. Out of tlie
muddle of her life something palpable was in her grasp, as yet un-
familiar but promising a bounty of her dreams.
"And what am I supposed to be doing when you're playing with fire
and sailing on the sea?" she whispered softly.
He was silent.
She rose and hunted for her dress in the dark. She heard him
moving, drawing on his clothes.
"I cannot take you."
The sound of her voice, its loudness, startled her; she was in the
house of Gro Jean, after all. The dreams that had so suddenlv and
easily sprung up were watered and pared down. Gro Jean might come.
Were Diegoto here tomorrow she could see him only as she saw him
Revolt . . .
before, in the back of the garden, always one eye on the path, ears
instinctively set to catch a sound of anyone approaching. It was not
a new world; only she was new and even, perhaps, only momentarily
"There is too much danger in the journey/' he whispered.
"I hate your war," she whispered back.
There it was; she could not shout as she wanted; for that moment
she realized that she was bound, was always bound, in a fear that
gave no respite. Even in the moment of love she had bitten her lip
against a cry.
She fell to haggling: it was possible for her to help, she could fight,
at least gather food in the hills. As she dealt out the possibilities she
avoided in her mind the one fact that made her going impossible.
It was Diegoto who voiced it. "I can't spend day and night in the
hills watching over you."
He spoke gently but the words numbed her; she sat on Dephra-
dine's bed; there were no words to add to his. She thought of his
death far away from her; it seemed certain, natural in the long-
beat-out movement of her life.
"I have lost a mother," she said senselessly.
Diegoto also thought of his death far away from her and against
it he fed on the houngan's words: "Even if we lose, we and all our
children can hold our heads high."
He knelt beside her and, passing his hand over her hair, he kissed
"I won't ever forgive you," she said, shaking her head. "I won't."
"I'm coming back, someway . . ." He rose and moved to the win-
dow, sliding out. She heard his muifled footsteps on the slates. The
empty, moonlit window seemed like a great blind eye staring at
her; she ran to it.
"I love you," she whispered to his dark shape, moving over the
lip of the roof. She saw his arm raise and wave; the form faded and
the slates were empty with moonlight. The night had its sounds,
restless dogs wailed, and distant drums— or was it thunder?— the
crackle of bamboo, and the rasp of palm leaves in the rising night
She turned back to her bed; she had begun to weep quietly. It
seemed before she reached the bed that a dark shape lay there,
that Diegoto lay there still. She reached out to touch only the twisted
shape of her cover. She scratched about until she found her dress and
ran from the room, down the hall, the back steps, and to the kitchen.
Against a moonht window her bird hung in its cage, silent in sleep.
She pulled on her dress and then she took the cage down and
wrapped it in its cloth. Lying down on the rush mats that covered
the floor, she embraced the cage and with her mind closed against
thought she wept her way into sleep.
In the night through dreams she tossed and heard shouting, a bell
rang, and doors slammed. A light like a silent, exploding cannon
burst in her dream and on the stove a pan of coffee beans were
burning; Dephradine stood by with a cat's smile and even after
Choucun took the pan from the fire the coffee continued to burn with
some unnatural fire. Gro Jean was shouting; Dephradine dished
burning coals from the grate, flinging them over the mats on the floor.
The house was burning. Dephradine flew up in the smoky air and
Choucun sat numbly in the flames feeling cold.
Dawn traveled through the town and the sun changed the wind-
cleaned blue sky to a burning yellow. Choucun lay asleep beside
the cage; sometime against the night's chill she had pulled off its
cloth for warmth. The little bird whistled and flew and flitted in the
cage. His tiny voice was not tnmipet enough to shake her from sleep.
But the sound of footsteps moving in the house, approaching,
affected tliat part of her that feared any intruder; she awoke
sharply, gathering at her thoughts as she sprang up.
The kitchen door opened and already she was laving a trav for
coffee. She turned to see Gro Jean fullv dressed, his face relaxed in
a look of surprise. Choucun went carefully about the tray, her mind
slowly gaining on clarity. She must start the fire, put water on to
boil. She had no idea how she looked; there had been no time for
Revolt . .
combing hair or doing buttons or finding shoes. The imprints of the
mat had been pressed on her arm in sleep; she rubbed at the marks
furtively. And the man watching and silentl She could not surmise
what he knew; only vaguely in half sleep could she remember be-
tween the night's dreams and waking. Slowly a fear was raising
itself inside her; she could not look back at the face; she could not
produce a word to cut the silence.
Say something, man, she whispered in her mind.
Presently he asked calmly, "Where is Dephradine?*'
"I don't know— she's not here."
His voice came harshly. "She damn' well ran to the hills and you
She turned, shrugging in her wretchedness to come fully awake.
"I suppose so . . ."
"There's a regular army of them gone off last night." It was as if
he spat the words. She managed to hold her head high.
Having reached the bin of firewood, she gathered an armload of
sticks and dumped them into the grate. There was a tinderbox some-
where—but where? Within herself she was desperately trying to
find the key that turned her face and mind immobile against the
The grate, the wood held her staring eye. She pulled her gaze
away from it and Gro Jean, standing dumbly, saw her face with an
unmasked innocence and fear.
"Why didn't you leave with them?" he asked incredulously.
She lowered her eyes, staring at the mat-covered floor, and the
night rode past her over the woven straw in all its tangle. Diegoto
was whispering and coals flashed in sparks from Dephradine's hand,
the apricot moon careened in its lilac sky, something silentiy ex-
ploding in orange light . . .
Gro Jean stepped toward her quickly as, arms hanging limply, her
body began to weave in a rush of vertigo. Automatically the arms
raised to protect her face from a blow. He touched her, his hand
steadied her; in a moment she lowered her hands, only vaguely fear-
ful. He stepped back, letting go.
"Thank you, Choucun," he said, and, turning his brooding eyes
from her, he hurried from the room.
She stood quietly for a while, letting her mind wind itself out
until the force of thoughts and remembering weakened and ground
to a stop, then she began a search for the tinderbox.
Choucun entered the main street of the city, traveling to the
market place. Since the disappearance of Dephradine and ffenri she
had had to take on most of the work. She cooked now, badly, but
she managed to learn a few dishes and neither Gro Jean or Ti Jean
had, as yet, complained.
Once she had smarted to fury when the old couple had set off
for the town to shop for food. It seemed a rich, daily treat for them.
Most every morning Dephradine had swung down the driveway
grumbling about the trip— Henri silent as usual— and Choucun had
stood by thinking her a fool. But shortly she had learned that hag-
gHng with the merchants was not a pleasiu-e or easy. Short measures
and rising prices were the rule among them. "C'est la guerre^ c'est
la guerre." They excused everything because of the revolt.
Madame La Satte had offered her coachman's assistance and by
ten o'clock Choucun had to have everything gathered for him to
cart to Gro Jean's house. The running had seemingly not affected
her household at all; every one of her slaves had stayed with her.
She came to the house often now; there were negotiations going on
for the sale of her lands and Gro Jean advised her. Whenever she
came she called for Choucun and in her presence chided Gro Jean
on his inability to get help. The market price of a slave had risen
by a fourth, and those were snapped up with a little or no bargaining.
New arrivals were always promised, but none came, and for what
reason Choucun did not know Gro Jean had gotten only a thin girl
of perhaps sixteen, too raw to know French or Creole— or any otlier
language, it seemed. Her large, frightened eyes never changed. She
knew how to do next to nothing at all.
Choucun had begim to call her Bougan after an incident of her
first day m the house. She had taken her over the rooms and into
Revolt . . .
the garden, showing her everything. No amount of words or sign
language could entice a word from her. She walked stiffly, her bony
legs working mechanically from the sack of white dress she wore.
Nothing had changed the expression of her eyes. Choucun tried the
names of the old gods: Agwe, Damballah, ErzuHe, Ghede, but no
hint of a reaction came.
Later in the day when Choucun had finished serving dinner she
returned to the kitchen to find the girl gone. Running into the garden
and not knowing what name to call her, she could only crisscross
the paths, up and down, searching. A black leg protruded from
behind a bush; Choucun crept around it quietly.
Only the huge, frightened eyes looked up at her, it seemed; they
held her motionless. The girl rose, producing from behind her back
a tendril of lavender-red bougainvillaea; she extended it to Choucun.
Taking the flowers, Choucun smiled and said over and over the
flower's name, "Bougainvillaea, bougainvillaea . . ,'*
"Bougan . . . Bougan . . ." the girl attempted to repeat the word,
and a thin smile appeared on her lips but the eyes had not changed.
The house was never more dustless. Once Bougan learned the
meaning of the feather duster she never stopped the circling of
room until it was taken from her hand or she was led to the next
room. Slowly she learned to fetch water and wood. Somewhere she
had learned to peel fruit and vegetables; she used the knife deftly.
Coming from the open market place, Choucun lugged the cloth
sack of provisions she had gathered; she set it down at the entrance
of La Salle's shop and went to the counter to order flour. This was
the best part of the day, for La Salle's was a melange of wares: dried
beef in lumps hung in gauze bags with yellow and dusty orange
cheeses, barrels of oil and dried fish sat around, the counters and
shelves were loaded to capacity with everything importable from
perfume to nails. Inside the shop the odors mingled into a damp
cool pungent scent that was like nothing else; it hung in her nostrils
long after she left.
Often Choucun lingered over a counter where strands of beads
were displayed and then by the shelves in the back where a rainbow
of cloth in great bolts was stored. She counted on the day that
Gro Jean might give her a few coins of her own, as he had rarely
done with Dephradine.
Monsieur La Salle sat in a Httle elevated cage in the back of the
store with a clear view of his clerks' and customers' hands. He had
taken to smiling at Choucun and lifting ever so shghtly the blue cap
that he wore. Once he had come down and commented on her look
of tiredness. In a short time she had indeed changed; she saw it in
the mirror. Her face was becoming drawn; her eyes were larger and
darker. Work and the tenseness she felt when thinking of Diegoto
had gnawed at her. Though obviously he had burned the warehouse
and escaped, the constant reports of a bloody, all-out revolt in the
plains unnerved her.
Monsieur La Salle rose and came down to greet Choucun. He
buttoned his gray coat over his paunch and smiled brightly in the
professional soHcitation of a merchant. His gray-bird mustache
drooped over his Httle teeth and though he was a full head taller
than Choucun he seemed small and jolly.
She ordered flour directly from him; leaning over the coimter,
he whispered that Gro Jean was indeed lucky to have her: the price
of flour would be the same to her even if the price had risen
astronomically— exactly how much that was he didn't say.
Choucun fingered an inlaid box, mother-of-pearl and mahogany,
cleverly designed into a scene with a garden where formal-chpped
trees edged the walks, a fountain sprayed water into a shimmering
pool and what appeared to be two people strolling.
"Open it," Monsieur La Salle suggested.
Inside, pasted to tiny cards of wood, were miniature paintings of
scenes in France: Versailles, the church at Reims, a chateau on the
Loire ... La Salle read off the titles of each one and Choucun was
careful to appear Hterate. She sighed over each one and told him of
her dream to travel there one day.
"It's yours," he announced, "no charge."
"I couldn't just take it for nothing." Choucim smiled slightly.
"My pleasure for the brightness you bring to this dreary shop." He
smiled broadly, and such a jolly smilel
For a moment Choucun was sure that she must refuse, but the
thought of owning a real treasure was the immediate concern— and
too powerful. She thanked him simply and started for the door,
remembered the flour, and returned.
''Gargon!" La Salle commanded.
A boy appeared from the back, bhnking away sleep. La Salle
instructed him rapidly in Creole. The boy sullenly eyed Choucun,
hoisted the sack of flour on his shoulder, and, going ahead, picked
up her other bag at the door. La Salle led Choucun to the street and,
forcing a thin, genteel smile on her face, she held the box close.
"Au revoir, monsieur" she said. He smiled and added his fraction
of a bow. Gathering her skirt in one hand, she set out for the church
square where the coach would be. The boy followed her quietly
under his load.
Lune, the coachman, was waiting beside Madame La Satte's red-
dish team of horses. He helped the boy load the sacks in the back of
the coach and out of habit Choucun climbed up on the seat beside
him. Afterward she wished she had sat inside; this day she had
trapped elegance. A treasure of her ownl It seemed silly to hold it
in one hand and hang on the lurching coach with the other.
The box came to Lune's attention immediately. "What that?" he
"A present from Monsieur La Salle. I haven't the least idea why
he'd be so kind to me."
"I have." His sharp little face was raised in a look of contempt.
"Oh, Lune. It means nothing— nothing at all . . . He's just a kind
man." Choucun reassured herself.
"Old La Salle's got more gold than half the highborn and so-called
rich in this town. What he's got is from trading sense, nothing other.
And you mind it."
Choucun only sighed in disgust.
"What's in it?"
"Pictures— of France."
"Looks nice, that I would say, looks nice."
He was silent and the blue coach swung out along the wharf road
where a ship was being loaded. A line of blacks heaved from one to
the other the squirming sacks of coffee. A face from the hne looked
up at her; it was like Diegoto's but younger. Her happiness faltered.
She pulled her eyes away; they moved to the bay and across it. The
plain was dusty greens blurred by the sun; farther the mountains
rose darkly blue, mottled with green against the cloudless sky. Some-
where there he must be, maybe farther south by now.
"Is there any news of anyone?" she asked Lune uncertainly.
"Anyone being who?"
"You know, anyone. Houngan Albert, for instance?"
Lune looked straight ahead as if he hadn't heard. His chin was
lifted in the manner of the master s; a show of elegance— and dis-
trust, she thought. He was as elegant as a shoeless man could be;
he had explained on their first meeting. "Shoes been made by
torturing devils and, course, without them stockings is useless. I
like wind on my legs anyhow," he had said. He wore his gray broad-
cloth breeches unbuttoned at the knees. The coat over the shirt must
be hot too, she thought; gray, piped in yellow with brass buttons, it
was his joy. It stayed on in the heat of the day.
Presently— some time had passed— he lowered his head and cocked
an eye at her. "For instance, Diegoto?" he asked.
"You hear something?" She had no game left in her to play.
Choucun spat in anger and sat up rigidly. Lime bawled out a
laugh in a high, hysterical-sounding glee that wobbled as the coach
bounced along. He foUowed it with a torrent of gossip. All the
runaways except four made the interior moim tains safely: one died
of heart failure, as one story went, the other being by the knife,
spying inferred; two shot dead near La Ferriere by mounted troops
and one captured, a girl. A variety of tales, from burning to being
quartered alive, had been reported, but Lune had inside gossip that
this girl had only to smile at her master and little that could be
called punishment would ensue.
Houngan Albert was safe and from what Lime called an eye-
witness Diegoto was seen in tlie company of the fabled Boukmann
himself, the wild runaway houngan whose hand had already fired
and wrecked most of the coffee plantations that lay on the foothills.
Rumors were thick of revolt in the cane fields all the way to the
south coast; a force of over a hundred thousand blacks was reported
ready for a push down the hills and across the plains to Cap Frangais
itself. A new revolt of the mulattoes to avenge their hero, Oge, was
reported ready on the northwest coast, but no one believed that it
had much heart. After the French had broken him over the wheel,
for his impertinent demand of full rights for his people, the mulattoes
were more cautious; many felt that they could wait until negotiations
for complete rights were possible.
"I do pray he is safe," she muttered. The coach slowed as it
climbed the hill to Gro Jean's estate and Choucun's eyes looked
again to the line of blue mountains. They were so far away and
forbidden to her.
"Thank you for trusting me with the news, Lune."
He gave her a mock startled look. "I tell you something?"
The coach swung in the driveway and stopped by the house.
Choucun, in sudden terror, hid the box under her arms and de-
scended from the coach, deftly keeping her treasure from the view
of the house. Once behind the coach she slipped it into the bag
among the vegetables and hoisted the bag with unusual care; she
hummed as she made her way to the garden and the kitchen door.
Nearly a week later Choucun finished setting the beds; the dishes
had been washed, and Bougan polished silver. The child seemed
delighted with the job, cooing strange moaning sounds over the
intricate garlands of flowers, the twisted shapes that made swans
into ewers, bowls, spoons, forks with feathery tines, and knives with
a swan's head at the tip of the handle, gracefully tjie neck curved
to fluted feathers where the blade started. Choucun moved in a
fierce industry from task to task, always another lay ahead. No
windows had been washed, and it seemed that the days when she
had been free on Sundays were only a fancy in her mind.
In truth, she preferred constant work; now the numbness of ex-
treme fatigue never left her; her mind drifted in some dead place
far from fear or happiness. Gradually over the days something had
shifted in her, she felt adrift, moving insistently toward a waiting
ennui, some dreaded boundary that called up a fear for herself.
But she sealed off the feeling with work and a distrust of contem-
plation. Nevertheless her mind would float back, retracing the last
days; she looked at them dully.
Earlier in the week Lune reported that a freed man had arrived
with messages from the runaways to their people in the city; he
promised to find the man and bring her what news there was for her.
In one long day of delirious tension she waited; a night passed in
fluttering starts from sleep and twisting dreams. With fear she ran
to the market place the next morning, snarling through clenched
teeth at the intricate game of merchants' rising prices and capricious
When Lune appeared with the coach, she had been long waiting.
She leaped onto the coach's step before it had fully stopped without
care for the startled looks of the elegant rich mulattoes, so perfectly
enmeshed in the manners of their fathers.
Lune turned his face away from hers; it was too fearful a look of
"For the love of the gods, Lune!" was all she said. She stepped
down limply and he silently loaded her parcels into the back. As
silently she climbed up and along the journey to Gro Jean's she held
onto her seat while Lune drove the horses with a hea\y whip hand.
She feared the silence between them and, as much, feared to break
As they unloaded the coach, their eyes met and each quickly
"Houngan Albert?" she asked.
In anger he replied, "No messages— from nobodyl"
In the days that followed little time was spent thinking about it;
Revolt . . .
some new fearlessness overtook her. Without her usual timidity she
bossed the startled Gro Jean and Ti Jean. She ordered more help as
she would have once mentioned that the Hour supply was low. The
endless duties of the household were flawlessly fulfilled in her desire
to pour out and exhaust the energy that supported thought. The
masters, who were never better served, found no complaint to wield
into a counterattack.
Gro Jean had sheepishly explained that help had been drained
away by recent "disturbances," and he promised that he would per-
sonally, as soon as he felt up to it, go to the plantation and fetch a
good woman for her— no matter what costs it was to the plautation's
"I'm only hoping it's soon you feel up to it," she replied bluntly.
For far less she had felt his hand, but she strode off without a glance
And now, hunting for something to do, she went to the kitchen
to help Bougan with the silver. Coming in, she found the girl asleep,
her black head resting among the sharply shining silver— the girl so
limp and childlike in sleep. Choucun shook her gently awake, lifting
her and leading her away up to bed, being careful of any sound
in the upper hall not to wake the masters, who napped away the hot
She tucked the girl in, patted her reassuringlv, and went down
to the kitchen again. She set upon the silver, putting it away in the
cupboards; her mind rummaged in its hoard of Lune's gossip: reports
of new attacks by the runaways, the marroons; it was claimed that
all the coffee plantations that lay on the slopes of the mountains
were in ruins; thousands of slaves were being spirited deep into the
hills, and troops were said to be on their way equipped with huge
dogs that could seize a man as it would a hare and drag him to
his master. The air was tense in the city; white, black, and mulatto
waited for what?
Drifting in, bobbing on the current of her mind, Lune's face came
and recalled an incident. He had once, not long before, looked at
her sideways with a grimace. "You are talked about in the moun-
tains," and he said no more, only frowned. She had hardly noticed
then, but now it was clear that something or someone had driven
his affection away.
Her mind was moving along an old path, to find some explanation
that would make everything excusable, less fearful. She cut it off and,
leaving her work, she walked into the garden. Her chest felt tremu-
lous and empty.
Ti oiseau, little bird, you are caged, her mind announced. She
started to run, but her body felt oddly heavy, and, startled, she
slowed to a jog. "Stone would feel this way," she thought. But
steadily she moved through the garden, heading toward the back
path that lead to the beach. She entered the woods, seeing none of
its beauty— banana trees heavy in flower tipped a red purple, gold
cassia sprays hung quivering in the hot breeze, foliage of the deepest
green was studded with white, red, and pink flowers. The whole
was braided with tie-tie vines that hung like tliin, lifeless tenacles.
She passed through, the white of her dress— too white a blot— moving
on the shimmering greens.
She came onto the warm sand of the beach; far dowTi toward the
tov^Ti a few figures strolled among the overtiu-ned boats that lay
lumped in small colonies. Fartlier, the masts of ships rose by the
wharves, their gay flags fluttering in the late sun. Across the bay
lay the plain and, pale to nonexistence, the thin line of mountains
like a rough-edge cloud on the horizon . . .
She waded into the cool water and loneliness struck her. For a
moment she stood quietly, knee-deep in the water, her skirts
gathered up in her hand, remembering, then she turned back to
land. Making her way up the beach, she went to where a single
boat hid her from the rest of the beach. She took off her dress and
the clotli that tied up her hair. Folding her things carefullv, she
tucked them under the boat, then she sprinted to the water and
threw herself in. She sank out of sight, immersing herself completely
in the element of her god.
When she rose for air, she felt light and weightless, at home in the
water. There was a strange joy in her, a commimion with Agwe;
she frolicked, swimming easily, aimlessly along the land, away from
the city, toward the reefs ahead where the open sea boiled over them
in blue-green, textured with white spray and foam. She swam fish-
like in sudden bursts of speed, roUing over and diving for long
periods to come up gasping and unsmilingly happy. The events of
the past weeks had filled her mind to the exclusion of her god, and
now she had returned in the mood of a priestess secure in her de-
votion. Landing on a bank of beach, cut oft' by mangrove and sea-
grape trees, she slumped down, catching her breath. The sorrow she
carried had become formless; before the sea and her god it seemed
laughable, but she could not laugh. She sat up, cross-legged, and
flicked sea grapes, pebbles, a sprig of seaweed into the gentle
surf. She caressed a shell, flung it into the water, and began to chant
ritual songs to her god, drumming the rhvthm on her thighs. Her high
thin voice cut the monotonous sound of the sea and the rustle of
trees; in the fading day she saw phosphorescent light in the dark
sea, lights flickering in the domain of her god, the gentle Agwe!
At length, in darkness, she returned to the water, swimming lazily
toward her starting place. And on the shore the flare of a torch
darted back and forth, illuminating figures. Nearer she heard their
voices, but she could not make out any words. They moved along the
beach; she waited, then quickly she swam to where the boat lay. In
few movements she dressed and started up the beach. The group
had stopped farther down; the holder of the torch in the middle of
the cluster was flagging it; it danced in the blackness over the Ht
disks of hats and orbs of heads.
Her name startled her. Who would be calling her? The voice was
unfamiliar. She stopped and watched the group jiggling along the
shore; there were four or five of them. They were bobbing back
toward her. Their voices came more distinctly; they spoke French,
not Creole, muttering all at once in a confusion of disjointed words.
"Choucun!" the one called again out over the water.
"What you want?"
The torch whipped in the night and sped toward her, hghting a
large man in gray who carried it. And nearer— La Salle . . .
Puffing, half colliding with her, he whimpered her name,
"Choucun, poor Choucun . . ."
"What's the matter?"
"I was dead sure you drowned. I saw you going out and you kept
on out to sea— it got dark, I couldn't help thinking . . ."
"That I drowned myself?"
"The last week you seemed so changed, so down . . ."
In the light of the torch he seemed so boyish, so disturbed and
embarrassed, she could only smile. Faces popped up in the light,
hard-eyed, silent poor whites with the meagerness of their lives
written on pinched faces. She bent her head in embarrassment over
the scene and began to tie up her wet hair.
"Don't stare, go on along with you," La Salle grumbled at them.
A thick, wheat-sack figure thrust out a square hand for the torch.
La Salle gave it over and the man stuck out his other hand and
waited. La Salle dug in his vest pocket, produced a coin, and dec-
orously dropped it in the hand. For a moment the man studied it
in the Hght of the torch.
"Go on, go on." La Salle pushed at him; he staggered back and
turned, plodding down the beach. The others pranced around him,
examining the coin, setting up a buzz of mumbled words on the air.
The tide was turning, the sea hesitated; in the hills a lonely
drum had begun to thump, it grated on the thin edge of Choucun's
mind. She shifted from foot to foot in the dark; suddenly she had no
words to speak. With solid earth beneath her feet she was again in
the world of men, no god gave her buoyance, heavily the whole
complex of her life settled again on her head.
"You are angry with me?" La Salle asked.
"I was so afraid you had drowned . . ."
After a silence she said, "I have thought of it . . . Monsieur, T have
a god out in the sea, it is all I have. And he waits for me. I wonder
sometimes, even now, why I don't go to him."
"Choucun, that's foolishnessr
"You are young, you have beauty, life for you is yet to come. It is
fooHsh to talk that way."
"You are white, monsieur; life for you is another thing."
"No, no, you're wrong. What do you think my life is? One long day
"You can do whatever you please."
"Oh, Choucun, I am a merchant, only a merchant. I know only to
sell for the highest price I can get, only that. My life has taught
me little else. I have had dreams— to do what I please. Ah! Enough
money to buy anything. Anythingl This new world promised such a
hfe and I have piled up the fortime. And now, I find I cannot buy
what I most want— it has to do with respect. I would pay a thousand
francs for one invitation to even a large party at Madame La Satte's,
never mind the inner circle. But I am La Salle, the merchant, an un-
pleasant shadow in the streets, not to be noticed. From La Satte to
La Salle is a long way down.
"Oh, I could buy a grand house and live like the best, but I've
seen others break their hearts on that road."
He fell silent. Choucun had looked into a world she had never
contemplated; to be free had been her only thought; all the things
she had dreamed of followed as a matter of course. Now that was
no longer true and she felt that she must not believe what he said;
it dimmed her dreams.
"I am sorry, monsieur."
"Oh," he snorted, and they fell silent. He, thinking of a chain of
subtle horrors that made up his life, his success, this anchorless chain
that had swung so wildly in his youth and now, even before middle
age, it had ceased its swinging and barely trembled in the stagnant
ease of more and more wealth, less and less reason for it. Something
childlike in him was springing up, a cry against broken promises.
But only his own head, reckless and young, had made them without
also knowing how to keep them. There was much he could tell this
The drum beat in the hills like a heart; a black hand somewhere
above them slapped and slid across its leather head. Who was it
calUng for? Choucun knew it certainly was not for her.
"In some way I know how you feel, monsieur. Not being white or
black, neither one has a place for me. But one day, when I am free,
I will find what place it is that is just for me and nothing will keep
me from it."
"You will be free, your father will free you at twenty-four as all
other mulattoes traditionally are."
"Monsieur, I do not know who my father was. Tell Gro Jean of
this tradition, I am sure he will laugh at you."
"Oh? You know, of course, it is whispered that Gro Jean is your
Choucun laughed. "Gro Jean? Impossible! I am his slave and serv-
"Well, it is certainly also whispered of others; Madame La Satte*s
husband, as I hear it, was much interested in your mother and there
is, of course, the story of his now famous fight with Gro Jean— some
say it was not over boundaries but your mother."
"I have not heard this story."
"Everyone knows it."
"Perhaps because I have never known anyone, I haven't heard it."
"Oh, it's simple enough, they both arrived at the magistrate's one
day charging each other with assault. Each one held a whip and
both were badly flayed. Only the authorities kept them from going
at each other again. They announced a duel for the following week
but Monsieur La Satte thoughtfully died in the meanwhile— some
say from the whipping."
"But why then is Madame La Satte Gro Jean's only friend?"
"That is everyone's question."
The possibilities that this idea offered spread rapidly in her mind.
Madame La Satte's kindnesses. Why tliose? And, still vivid in her
memory the time after her mother's death, Gro Jean was kind; he
brought her a doll with a pink china head and a blue dress. It was
Revolt . . .
still in the bottom of her sea chest, a wreckage of hard squeezes
and her fierce childhood kisses. He once was kind to her . . .
Dephradine! Always with a smile of secrets— "My mouth is shutl"
—and her mocking laughter . . .
"Choucun, listen to me." La Salle cut into her thoughts; he had
taken her hand, gripping it in his own cool, moist ones. "I'm not so
old, I only feel tired of this life, I'm tired of this place. I've come to
backwater, dead backwater, it's time I shoved on. You once spoke
longingly of going to Paris. I can take you there— yes, I can— buy
your freedom. I got money to buy with now. Paris is a changed place,
I hear; now you are what you can buy, blood be damned. I could
buy a house— I know the one— and I could dress you like a little
empress. How they would stare." He laughed in a great joy. "God in
heaven, I can see their faces now."
Between past and present Choucun's mind grappled feebly in an
attempt to organize them. La Salle had drawn her to him; she could
not resist and yet his wet lips on her cheek repulsed her. She drew
in his smell, cologne water, musky with the scent of damp wool and
tobacco. Automatically she pulled away, his hands brushed over her
thighs, and she felt for a moment a familiar pang— Diegoto rose in
her mind; she turned to run. The cloth of her sleeve caught in La
Salle's hand, strained and tore, she pitched forward, caught her
balance, and ran.
And when she arrived at the kitchen door only the warring of
spirit and desire had passed in her mind. Beyond curses for her
stupidness in running she felt already given, bound to Diegoto. She
rushed in, breathing heavily, and stopped. Gro Jean and Ti Jean
wheeled around at her entrance, their faces in surprise. The three of
them stood dumbly looking at each other; it was obvious that her
return was unexpected. She grasped in her mind to set the mask on
her face, but the trick twisted and she went dizzy and strange.
Before her dazed eyes Gro Jean broke into movement like some
broken dancer flailing the air with his cane. The taller but lesser
figure of Ti Jean accompanied the old man in his dance; they moved
in waves over the fuzzy mats of the floor. Words busied themselves
like insects at her ears; few broke through— they seemed vaguely
witty to her—". . . httle black stick . . . run . . . beach savage . . .
love ..." A mocking eye with a black smear of brow hung over a
thin smile. She gathered the torn cloth of her sleeve over her arm
against the shameless stare. Gro Jean moved before the eye, blotting
it out, and she doubled her body. Pain cut into the dim stream of
her thoughts, her body unwound, and by instinct her hands grappled
with the offending cane; it tore from Gro Jean's hand and she
watched it sail, slowly revolving until it coUided against the dining-
room door. She followed, moving dreamlike, meeting the door, pass-
ing through. Her startled mind listened to her screaming, like at
night— a wild bird crying in pain and fear. She ran through the
rooms, a window caught her eye and her arms snarled in the lace
curtains, they ripped. She fell into the night, rose and stumbled,
scratching at the binding lace of the curtains. They flew behind
her, slid off, and fell limply on the grass as she ran.
Sometime later, somewhere along the beach road she found a low
wall and stretched out on it. She let her mind drain in a half doze of
sleep and fainting. Carefully she concentrated on watching a star
and judged its movement by the dark mass of a tree. Sometime while
lying there a coach clattered by on the road, the drum in the hills
stopped suddenly, and her shoulder began to thump its pain on
She rose; stiffness had settled in her joints. Wandering into the
road, she lifted her arms flagging them to work out their dullness.
Hoarsely she hummed a meandering tune and without thought of
the destination she sought she made her way to the town.
There was little Hght; now and then a second-floor window
showed a dim lamp; the town was asleep. A few figures hung at
street corners whispering; the dogs had set up theii- dialogues from
the yards, complaints and bravadoes, tliin yelps and deep-throated
barks. A thin rim of moon had risen. She found the street that led
to La Salle's door.
And there she rapped steadily, beating against it with her hands
in fists; the wood echoed hollow and drumlike. She began to weep.
The tears seemed somewhere outside herself, moving upon her as if
they would cut her down. She leaned against the door, pounding
sharply with one hand. A pain flared up in it, diverting her mind
from the burning throb in her shoulder.
"La Salle!" Her voice echoed in the empty street. A window above
her opened and a lamp preceded La Salle's frightened face.
"Open the door for me."
"Shush 1 One moment." He gave a furtive look down the street.
Choucun leaned against the doorjamb, quietly crying. She had
managed not to think of anything in particular the whole time from
Gro Jean's house to this door, nothing of importance. But slowly
now the tears began in earnest and she could feel the rage of hu-
miliation rising over, forcing up the cover of her mind. If she could
recapture the dreamlike stance of her mind, if she had the energy,
but exhaustion had broken down that old wall; her spirit and body
were joining to do battle.
"Ti oiseau, poor ti oiseau" her mind coaxed her spirit to retreat.
The door opened and La Salle pulled her roughly inside. "Shush,
shush," he whispered as he led her through the heavy air of the
dark shop, up creaking narrow stairs at the back to the second floor.
He opened the door, led her into a lavish room, softly lit, richly
baroque in gilt and crystal. But Choucun saw nothing; she hung on
him, letting her body shudder and gasp its cry, letting rage fill up
her mind until it boiled itself dry.
La Salle held her and kissed her. "Choucun, what is it? What is it?"
She turned, undid the buttons of her dress and exposed her back.
A welt lay across her left shoulder like a flattened cigar, bluish now
under the skin. La Salle's eyes widened, he sniffed, wrinkling his
nose, and in a low-voice muttered, "Oh . . . Oh dear."
From a collection of decanters on a bureau he selected a brandy
and poured the wine over the welt. Choucun gasped as it stung,
but the newer pain came as relief. He poured a glass of the brandy
and put it in her hand. She stood in the middle of the room, staring
at the shaking glass and holding her cries down to thin, stifled gasps.
La Salle rummaged in a drawer, found a vial of oil, and, ripping
away a piece of her torn sleeve, he dabbed the Hquid dehcately on
the wound. It seemed to chill the flesh.
**You must not have a scar, it will help," he said softly.
In the rattling aftermath of dry sobs she gulped the vnne to feel
it burn down her throat, the warmth spreading into her. La Salle
reached for a chair, thought better of it, and, picking her up, he
carried her to another room and laid her on a bed. Over her he drew
a cool spread of India printed silk and left the room. She rose and
undressed, letting her clothes lie where they fell, her shoes where they
were kicked. A door somewhere was bolted. She got into the bed,
arranged the spread over her, and from her mind she plucked the
image of a sweet child she had never seen; she concentrated on it,
holding off all other feeling. The child had bright green eyes.
La Salle came back and put out the lamp. Sitting on the bed
beside her, he caressed her arm and leaned over to kiss her. She
stretched, sighing in a voluptuous security, and relaxed.
"Mine is a lonely life. It needs you very much," he said.
And, feeling sad, she reached up her hands to his face, caressing
it, then she pulled him down to her.
In the night she awoke several times, crying out, and La Salle's
arms would embrace her; his hands caressed her to sleep. Her
dreams were tangled except for a gentle garden where she watched
a pool of water, smooth and bright as hot grease. In it she saw Lord
Agwe's face; he was a beautiful child who beckoned to her.
When she awoke La Salle was already up. Stiffness dulled her
body; her shoulder felt as if it were asleep. She moved; an ache
began thumping, plucking at her sore flesh from the bone up along
the muscles to the neck. But she smiled. A new faith had spread
into her; she was happy. She turned under the silk spread and
marveled at its coolness, its smoothness— smoother than any cloth
she had ever touched.
La Salle in a rust-colored night robe was quietlv washing sleep
from his face, leaning forward peering into a gilt framed mirror that
was carved in arabesques where fruit and flowers tuined. Elegant
pillar-legged tables with blackish marble tops stood among formal
little chairs covered in yellow silk. The walls were paneled in
mahogany; a garden trellis was carv^ed over the mouth of a tiled
fireplace fitted out with andirons, screens, and tongs of bronze. La
Salle quietly dipped a gold-colored cloth in a huge white bowl
decorated with blue fleurs-de-lis. It was a marvelous world, a more
beautiful room than any at Gro Jean's— or at Madame La Satte's. He
was evidently as rich as he said. A side of him that no one suspected
was hidden here above the dim shop, an almost too delicate world
Her eye wandered, over thick drapes of gold-brocaded silk,
fringed and tasseled with a deeper gold; the circle of woven mat,
somewhat dirty, that covered the floor only made the other objects
more beautiful. On a bureau stood a little black man who held to
his lips a cigar and delicately in his other hand a pince-nez. He had
a tiny top hat of brown felt with a band of black silk, a formal black
suit, the breeches tightly fitted over his perfect little legs. A gold
watch chain hung across his waistcoat, jewel-like studs on his shirt,
black tie, silver buckles on his tiny black shoes. She raised herself
to see him better; there was a huge key stuck strangely in his side.
For a moment she could not understand its meaning, and then she
realized that he was a wonderful doll, so perfect as to be real. She
La Salle turned. She felt somewhat disappointed; his pale face
was puffy with sleep, the eyes glazed. He did not return her smile
but went back to brushing down the thin strands of his tousled
"You'd better get up. IVe got to be in the shop soon," he mumbled.
"My shoulder still hurts a little . . ."
"You'd better get up," he said more firmly, turning a perfectly
blank face to her. He went out of the room; she lay listening as a
bolt slid, a door bumped roughly, and he clattered down the steps.
She heard his voice below; the words were unclear but it had the
ring, the stance, of a master giving orders. Other voices— the clerks
had arrived. She listened carefully to every sound, freezing her
feeling of happiness where it stood in mid-flight. But slowly under
the cool silk spread her body was tensing.
She waited; were she to move the whole structure of joy would
crash down soundlessly. He was mounting the steps, coming across
the outer room, the boards creaking. In his hand he carried a dress
of pale yellow cloth; without looking he threw it on the bed and
leaned over, gathering up the crumbled pile of crude torn cloth
from the floor. He tossed the old dress in the fireplace and, going to a
wardrobe, he gathered his clothes and left the room.
She lay, hearing the rustles of his dressing in the next room. He
cleared his throat, wheezed, and sighed. "Better get up," he called.
She obeyed fearfully, not of him but of the feeling that was work-
ing inside her chest. A frown appeared on her face. The dress was
manipulated by her hands; she watched them as they gathered and
lifted the pretty dress. It covered her face and her body struggled
into it. She sat on the bed, slumping and eying the dirty shoes that
lay staggered on the floor.
At length she heard the outer door open, mitffled footsteps, and the
tinkle of china rattling on metal. La Salle grunted. The footsteps
retreated. The door clicked shut and La Salle drew long breaths.
Liquid poured. Each sound came to her sharply in relief against the
silence inside of her.
La Salle stood at the door. Motioning to the dress, he said, "It
looks pretty on you." His face contorted into an uneasy smfle. "Come
on out, I got some coffee up." He retreated before the confusion in
She stood up and laboriously wriggled her feet into her shoes.
Slowly she tottered to the door and passed tlirough into the ne.xt
room. The smell of coffee was redolent with tobacco smoke. La Salle
lay down a cigar, leaped up, and puffed a cushion on a heaw chair,
then set about mixing coffee and milk in a cup. She sat down, leaning
her head in a hand, looking down and away at the massed treasures
in the room. They were fairly piled in, figurines and music boxes,
the loot of a greedy child. She checked her mind from sallving out
Revolt . . .
He handed the cup to her. She remained motionless except for
the eyes that Hfted in an empty stare. Setting the cup on a table
beside her, he took a roll, broke it, and smeared it with jam. This he
placed beside the cup and he seated himself heavily in his chair.
His head hung over the steaming cup; he sipped, smacked his
burned lips and shifted his weight. Boyishly he looked up at her, a
pained smile wrinkling his chin.
"Choucun, it's morning." He wagged his head, drew a breath, and
plunged in. "I know, I know. I promised you anything on the beach.
But you know perfectly well no mulatto is allowed to go to France,
hasn't been for years— or at least you should know it. There's still
revolution there; you've heard of that, haven't you?"
Her unchanging eyes stared him down.
"Choucun, I can't go to Gro Jean and say, 'Monsieur, I wish to
buy your slave, Choucun— sometimes said to be your daughter.'
What would he do to you? Or to me? Choucun, they're all just wait-
ing for some excuse to cut me down. I have enemies. The magistrates
have new decrees every day. They seem senseless unless you know
how they pay the great whites. Do you think they wouldn't decree
something so they take away my money? They would 1 I only want
to be imnoticed— invisible if possible. The law here is for the great
whites— so they can get more and more. People like us never matter.
Go back, tell Gro Jean you're sorry for running away. Go back,
Choucun rose stiffly. In the silence her mind was clicking out
accusations, plans, fears. Cheater, you could get me on a boat, powder
my face white, I can look Spanish. Afraid to spend your gold, to lose
your pretty things, toys! I didnt love you and you dont love me.
Hell beat me if I go back; Ti Jeanll laugh. Ill go to the hills, to
houngan Albert, he'll protect me. I'll find him. Damn you, damn all
La Salle had leaped up; he went into the next room and returned
almost immediately, carrying a small leather bag. He opened it and
thrust it before her eyes, a mound of coins lay in its bottom.
"They're all gold— enough to go to France when you can. Bury
them somewhere. It's all I can do, Choucun." He dropped the bag
on the table beside the cup of coffee.
"For God's sake, you might say something instead of staring like
that." He turned away and went into the bedroom. The bag lay
beside the jam-covered roll. She took up the roll and bit into it. For
some time she stood eating and sipping the lukewarm coffee, looking
at the leather bag. La Salle came through the room, grunting, and
descended the stairs.
Her breakfast finished, she picked up the bag, undid the blouse of
her dress, and slid the bag inside, working it carefully to a position
under her arm. She buttoned the blouse and went calmly down the
steps. In the shop she examined the bolts of cloth, went by the
staring clerks without a glance, and continued into the street.
La Salle watched her go, looked hard to see if the bag were in
her hand. The clerks cast an eye up at him, fidgeting in his wire
cage, and they ducked behind counters to bite at their smiling lips.
Choucun walked the morning streets, wandering in the market,
along the wharves, sitting dumbly on a bench in the church square,
looking as if in disheveled ease she were taking the morning air. In
the elegant yellow dress, her hair hanging wildly, she attracted
everyone's attention. She saw nothing; her eyes had the dull gaze of
the idiot. Behind them her mind sorted out the next possible move;
each of the ventures she planned had its flaw. Going back to Gro
Jean's would only mean a whipping. She considered Madame La
Satte, but that would only end at Gro Jean's again. Somewhere along
the way, on some pretext, he would see to the whipping. It was
useless to try to board a ship; she could only lose the gold. The hills?
If she could somehow get to houngan Albert. But how? What else?
she wondered. What else?
She rose from the bench and passed out of the square into a street
that led to the wharves. From the shade of an overhanging balcony
she watched a ship being loaded. Upon their heads blacks were
carrying sacks— probably sugar— up a steep gangplank. Their plight
was meaningless to her; they were part of the others, the whites
and blacks. But where was her own kind? Those haughtv' pale browii
creatures who moved up the street with heads held high, unspeak-
ing and unspoken to? They saw no black and had only a quick, hurt
glance for the whites. Did they also not know their fathers? Had they
sweet memories of black mothers? They seemed as alien as the rest;
never had she had even a nod from one of them. Were all of them
like her? Alone? Without a place in the world?
She walked up toward the beach and though she realized that
there was little time to wander about before something had to be
done, it failed to hurry her. A weariness was in her body, and the
body seemed no longer concerned with the commands of the mind.
She ambled onto the beach and sat near the water, eying the clusters
of small fishing boats that heaved on the long rolls of tide waves.
A group of men, two blacks and a white, caught her eye. They
were laden with shawls of net slung over their shoulders, small casks,
a wooden tub, coils of ropes, bottle floats hanging, and long sticks
of crusty bread poking high above their heads. Like shore birds
they gathered their paraphernalia high above their waists and, long-
legged, they stepped gingerly into the water, wading out to a small
Choucun rose and went farther up the beach to watch them sling
their burdens into the bobbing boat, the water above their waists.
In one quick, co-ordinated movement they hesitated, then pulled
themselves up, twisting into the boat that lurched and shimmied
with their weight, then bobbed free again. The white man began a
string of orders, lustily connecting the words with profanity; the
silent blacks leaped and scrambled, slinging clumps of net, pulling
ropes, and adjusting the cnunpled mass of sail. An anchoring rock
was drawn up and snapped deftly into the boat, ropes were pulled,
unfastened, the boat wandered free, the sail climbed slowly up the
Hurriedly they shifted around. Suddenly the offshore breeze
caught the sail, slapping it out of limpness; the craft leaned precari-
ously and slid sharply around and bobbed away, moving in an arc
out toward the reefs.
Choucun watched carefully as it made its way along the shore,
through the passage in the reefs, out to open sea. It moved steadily
out toward the rim of the sea and out there on that rim was France
and Paris. In a sudden decision she got up and made her way toward
the far end of the beach where clumps of sea grape and mangrove
trees formed a perfect shelter.
As she moved she felt a gaiety rise up inside her. The water of
the sea was too blue under the whitish, sun-filled sky. She looked
back at the groups of boats heaving and sidling on their ropes and,
reassured, she jogged along the water; even the sluggish body was
joining her again in delight.
Along the beach road streams of people made their way to and
from the town, coaches and carts set up a clangor on the cobblestones
of the road, the buzz of voices drifted. From balconies servants hung
out their array of spreads, shaking them, letting them drape in sharp
patches of color against the whitewashed fronts of the buildings. A
white horse leaped the low sea wall and galloped onto the beach
ahead of her. The rider reined in the prancing animal and swung it
around, trotting toward her.
She stopped; it was Ti Jean's voice; there was no place to run,
he had cut her ofiF from the shelter of trees.
He drew the horse up beside her and smiled wryly down. She
looked very much a lady in the new dress, wind-blown, to be sure— a
lady with ruined shoes. She raised her eyes defiantly and she knew
that if he killed her she wouldn't beg or run. But he only smiled.
''You've been considerable trouble this night. The old man's been
scouring the hill road gun in hand, he's set to see you dead, httle
Choucun said nothing. Between them there was a silence, Ti Jean
continuing his wry smile and Choucun waiting proudly for the cer-
tain blow. Who would give it mattered httle now; it would come
from someone, now or later. She questioned in her mind the where-
abouts of that key, that feeling that could make her face into a mask.
The power was no longer with her; her defiant eyes refused to lower
Revolt . .
"All right, little bird, come along.**
She didn't move.
With a bland smile she asked, "Are you taking me back to Gro
"Whew, that's a cold fire you burn. Don't worry, my little bird,
I'll protect you from him. You just keep civil, let me handle him."
She snorted in contempt and asked incredulously, "How? Will you
slap his hand?"
He leaned from his horse, unsmiling now, "A lot can happen in a
night; you, of all people, should know that." His eyes took in the
new dress and he sat up and swung the horse around smartly.
There was a change in him. He sat astride his horse easily; a sharp
vigor lay behind his movements and that smile of superiority that
people with a secret wear. She felt suddenly almost a pride in him;
that littie boy she as a child could always beat had grown overnight,
it seemed, into a master.
He spurred his horse and it loped toward the road. Swinging
around in the saddle, he called back, "Come on, forget about them
hills. The blacks there don't want any yellow-colored slaves."
She followed slowly and near the sea wall she glanced back at the
fishing boats, so innocent, so easily available. There would be a time
At the entrance to the house Ti Jean pointed to a chair and told
her to stay there. He left her and went up the staircase, swinging
his body nonchalantly. She watched him and felt mildly amused.
Through the parlor door she saw the still-open window with its
strings of torn lace; she remembered like a dream plunging through
it. But immediately she stopped the flow of images. During the morn-
ing her rambling mind had found that she was alone; there was no
one who was her kind. Her life could never resume its old pattern,
things had gone too far, no one could ever go back to the innocent
days before the running. And yet, knowing that she could look to no
one for help was oddly comforting. The world around her, never
clear, was now muddied and only the thin current of herself ran
through it, sparkling for seconds into clarity, then fading darkly.
There was no safe way to the hills, to houngan Albert, but there
were the boats, only them— and her protecting god under the sea.
With his hand beneath her and his breath a breeze, her boat would
travel to the rim of the sea and on the shore of France she would
bow down and chant her gratitude. In the boat she would place all
her treasures— even the gold— send it back to the sea, to Agwe, and
turn walking into the paradise that awaited her. She nudged the
leather bag under her arm and sat back waiting, smoothing out the
wrinkles in the rich cloth of her dress. A quiet, sweet indolence over-
Ti Jean came down the steps carrying an empty bottle. Lifting
it gaily as if in a toast, he said, "My father is indisposed." He studied
the bottle and looked up at her, smiling. "I'm more than a Httle con-
fused, all these years the cellar has been full and suddenly— Papa's
made a discovery. We must be careful to see that he's well suppHed."
He laughed freely. "I know you'll be too happy to help him continue."
Her eyes narrowed. "Tomorrow he'll be as sober as usual and
then you'd better look out, little Jeanl"
Without an expression he walked over to her and she prepared to
dodge a blow. But he quickly doubled over and laughed, straight-
ened up, and, looking skyward, he said, "If brandy fails, I have no-
ticed a certain— wandering of the mind. Considering age and"— he
spread his arms— "other disturbances I have every hope that it will
continue." He eyed her seriously. "Little bird, I been thinking that
last night's little row was altogether strange. I decided that Papa has
a very real affection for you . . . very real. And at his age, imaginel"
"It's not so strange, Ti Jean, have you never heard it gossiped that
I am his daughter."
"Oh, my poor little bird, I've heard of at least ten fathers for you—
including Papa." His eyes narrowed to sullenness. "But if he was your
father I hardly think he'd let you scrub floors. Say what you will
about him, he's no coward. That mother of yoius traveled fast, black
"Watch your tonguel" He smiled. "I want to be your friend.
Really I do."
Turning to the dining-room door, he hesitated and said flatly, "Get
up to your room and take o£F that silly dress. And mind me, little
bird, you leave this house without my consent and I'll come after
you with my gun— and 111 know where to look."
After he went through the door she hissed after him, "Yes, Mon-
Passing along the upstairs hall, she involuntarily glanced at Gro
Jean s door. It was a trifle ajar; she stood near it listening. The sound
of his heavy snores came out to her and she slowly pushed the door
open. There he lay on the chaise longue; in sleep his ruined face was
as pale as an old dead child's, the mouth worked, saliva ran from
its corner down to his chin and spread its mark on his blouse. Beside
him on the table lay his thick-handled pistol, a half -filled glass, and
his coiled belt that she had felt before.
She pulled the door shut quietly and spat in contempt, then con-
tinued to her room.
For an hour and more she lay quietly. The yellow dress was stored
away in the chest, she had resumed the coarse white one, it had
saddened her, it was a symbol of retreat. She turned loose the im-
ages of Paris, letting them flow and ebb in her mind and whenever
a thought came, as they did too often, of Diegoto, or houngan Albert,
or the revolution in France that La Salle had spoken of, she led them
quickly out of her mind, setting in their place the bright images of
elegance as gleaned from the miniature La Salle had given her. How-
ever, the leaden feeling that had filled her body in the morning had
returned and without warning an arm would jerk convulsively, a
tightening of muscles grew in her legs, then relaxed. But her mind
refused to allow concern, she spun before her closed eyes the gold,
now lying beneath the mattress, and the collection of dreams she
had wrought out of the dull years. Paris, Paris, Paris, she whispered
in her mind until Ti Jean's call cut into the wash of dreams.
She got up, slowly rolling her head as she would to shake off sleep.
The voice of Gro Jean in a rage came down the hall. She opened her
door and Ti Jean was standing outside his father's room. He came
down the hall to her whispering.
"He's with us again. Heat some water, he feels dusty."
The winding tableau of dreams had not spun out of her head;
she looked back dumbly.
"Come on, wake up." He shook her arm. "You just bring it up like
you'd never left. And don't worry, I can control him."
Turning her around, he shoved her toward the back steps. She
went slowly down to the kitchen and made up a fire in the grate,
then she put the kettle on to boil. She looked aroimd the familiar
kitchen and felt strange; somewhere in her memory she was sure
that it had burned and yet everything was the same.
Bougan, she thought, and she went to the door that led to the
garden, calling timidly. Vaguely she seemed to remember that some-
thing had happened to her, but she couldn't recall the event. She
turned back into the kitchen, passing the cage where her yellow
bird was flitting merrily. Automatically she went to the pantry and
took a handful of cracked wheat for him.
As she poured it in the httle slot the bird fluttered down, pecking
hungrily. She could not remember when she had fed him last. How
merry he was, how simple; she unlatched the door of the cage and
took it to the open window.
"Fly. Go on, fly away."
Watching him fly out, she smiled. The bird wheeled and lighted
on her head. She brushed him off and he circled the room and de-
scended to her shoulder, chirping excitedly. She gently took him up
in her hand, nuzzled him, and put him back in the cage. She left the
door open for his escape, but her sadness returned. Over the bird's
delicate chirp the kettle hissed to a bofl.
For a moment she had forgotten Gro Jean and as she went up the
stairs she felt no fear, only a profound tiredness. For perhaps the
first time in her life she entered his room and passed before his eyes
without a pose. She poured the water into the washing bowl and
added cold water from a pitcher until it reached just below a bulbous
Revolt . . .
blue-painted rose that from long experience she knew made it the
right temperature. She waited for an order.
Gro Jean s breathing, heavily wheezing in his nose, came to her
ears. Out of the comer of her eye she saw the still-half -filled glass,
a new unopened bottle sat beside it, the pistol and belt were gone.
Ti Jean spoke. "That's all, Choucun."
She turned, her eyes meeting Gro Jean's; she looked into them
compulsively, freezing where she stood.
"Where do you think you're going? You dirty whoring bitch, I'll
kill you before you disgrace my house."
At this he pulled himself up, grabbed at the bottle and got shakily
to his feet. Ti Jean darted between them, shoving Choucun toward
the door. The bottle fell from Gro Jean's hand, bumping heavily on
the floor mats, and rolled away under a chair. She turned her eyes
away from the masters, watching the place where the bottle had
disappeared as she backed to the door.
Gro Jean struggled in his son's arms, saying as if it were a des-
perate plea, "I'll kill her, I will, I'll kill her."
"No, no, you won't." Ti Jean laughed openly. "You're too old to kill
Choucun passed into the hall; the old man's voice followed, call-
ing her everytliing but a child of God. But the words meant nothing
to her; they melted into the whole array of oaths that had pelted her
ears to insensitivity over the years.
She went down to the kitchen and noisily rattled the grate, then,
quickly picking up her bird cage, she crept out into the garden,
hanging it on a limb of an almond tree. She went back in and up
the stairs to her room; hstening carefully for any movement in the
house, she gathered her favorite dresses, the box with the pictures
of France and her gold, tying them together in a bandanna. She
reserved a ragged dress dyed a blackish blue and placed the rest
under the bed.
A cool clarity was in her mind; it narrowed to the moment, cut
away the dreamlikeness of the day. Calmly she went over each move-
ment that was necessary to gain the beach and the boat. She spent
the evening going over each detail, then over them again.
At one point a coach drew up at the front of the house; she could
hear Lune's voice and she waited fearfully. Perhaps Madame La
Satte had come; she dreaded the look of those kind eyes. If the
lady knew about last night, those eyes might change and how could
anyone explain in what way all the pieces had fitted together. Cer-
tainly Gro Jean would make her look the worst.
But only Lune's voice came up the step with Ti Jean's; there was
a clattering as if dishes were being unloaded and Choucun realized
that Lune had brought food for them.
Her mind projected further; if they come to the room she must
appear innocent of any plans. Quickly she hid the old blue dress
in her chest and, stripping off the dress she wore, she pulled on a
shabby robe, a relic of Dephradine. She curled herself on the bed
in an attitude of sleep and waited.
Some time later Ti Jean called and she rose, going into the hall.
"Come get these dishes."
He handed out two trays heavy with china and silver. Ti Jean
looked at her, hair hanging, the threadbare robe dirty to grayness.
"Where in God's name did you get that thing? You got nothing
better to wear?"
"Find yourself something to eat. There's food in the kitchen, isn't
She nodded and, balancing the two trays, she went down the hall.
Ti Jean came a little way after her.
"Wash those dishes and get back in that room. You remember what
I told you. No night hunting!"
She went down into the dim kitchen and set the trays on the
sideboard. By candlelight she carefully washed them, loading them
back on the trays. Fortunately the dishes had brought her again to
the kitchen; she had completely forgotten about food. From the pan-
try she took dried beef, biscuits, a small bag of sugar. She filled a
flask with water, poured in a little wine, and stuffed them in a large
Revolt . .
cloth bag used for laundry. Over the provisions she v^^ould put the
bandanna of clothes— later. Now she carried the bag to tlie tree
vv^here her bird cage hung, careful of any sound. The bird was asleep.
Night had moved into the sky, starred and clear.
She went in and, entering her room, she closed the door sharply
and, curhng again on her bed, she waited.
A rap at her door woke her; she snapped awake in the dark room.
It was still night. Stupid, sleeping, she shouted in her mind. She
sat up. The door swung open and Ti Jean's face glowed in the light
of the lamp he carried. She watched him set it down and happily
thought that it couldn't be too late.
Her eyes adjusted to the light and she saw a belt in Ti Jean's hand;
it was wrapped around his hand, curling down, serpentlike.
He smiled down at her pleasantly. "I have my father's permission
to punish his slave."
Glaring up, she snorted contemptuously.
"Little bird, you don't look at all frightened."
But he was not the thin-legged boy she had trounced; he was a
man now, taller and stronger.
"I quite agree, you shouldn't be frightened, I'm a very gentle mas-
ter." He smiled and it was more a grimace. "I have only the kindest
regard for you."
He leaned over and looked at her squarely, his face serious and
boyish. "There won't be any need to find gentlemen in the nights to
come, I'm going to be here from now on."
"You?" she smiled. It was like the manner he assumed when they
were children and he would so oflFhandedly announce that she would
be chained up as soon as he reported some impertinence of hers.
He sat on the bed and looked off into space. His face had a
compelling seriousness in it before it broke into a smile.
"I suppose you are referring to our earlier conversation. But you'll
be happy to know that Papa and me had a long, very long, conver-
sation—covering many things. Like the affairs of the house, business,
the plantation and— other properties." He was play-acting now, his
frown near collapsing into laughter. "Those heavy mantles of trust
now weigh on my shoulders. I was, of course, quite modest about
my ability to assume them. I promised faithfully I'd do my god-
He looked her squarely in the eye. "I have everything— in my
hands." And he smiled. "Isn't it a caution how silly and bHnd people
get in old age? Oh, and we spoke of the past, dear sainted Mother-
he confessed she passed over quite mad— then there was your mother
and, of course, you. I have the story straight from the old bull's lips,
it was like a rampaging confessional in that room. Tears, my Godl
"Little bird, it was Monsieur La Satte that was your father— I has-
ten to apologize— it seems when yoiu* mother was out on loan Mon-
sieur La Satte— uh— compromised her. Forcefully, of course.
"Though Papa didn't say anything in particular I took it that he
had had his own plans for her and La Satte's little indiscretion ruined
everything. Then Papa showed a most ugly side of himself, he actu-
ally said he was happy when she died and there was acreages of
babble about a look in her eyes and duties and what not. Toward the
very end of our little chat he said, 'Choucun has always been a
thorn in my side— an odd one, sometimes hurting and sometimes a
joy.' Very tender, all in all."
Choucun started inside; he was serious. He turned his face away
and continued, "Choucun, we've been around each other all our lives;
you are the only person I've ever really known. It seems to me that
I've won. I want you to benefit by it. First thing tomorrow I'm get-
ting servants at any cost and you can rest as you damn' well please,
you can have your freedom, live like any white . . . Remember when
we were children, you used to throw me down and I'd shout that I'd
have you flogged? I wanted more than anything then to be your
master, everytliing else I was sure of getting in the end. You always
Revolt . . .
won and now I will win. I don't dislike you Choucnn, perhaps I
even like you too much. I just want you to like me— enough to stay
He turned a half-desperate boyish face to her. "I just want you
to belong to me, really belong to me."
Choucun sat inert; an unseeing gaze looked back at him. Her eyes
narrowed and focused. She saw his hand stretch out, coming across
the bed. Viciously her mind jabbed her body to action; she bolted
for the door.
From behind the sound of her name cried and the belt caught
her in the half-opened door.
Across her temple a pain gathered. Rapidly, as if she withdrew
from her figure, she was spiraling, swinging up, away from her body
as it hung suspended in a half-dark room. The body far below moved
in its struggle and, free of it, she could watch the starlike pain trip
gaily down over her ear and settle on the shoulder. It shimmered
and wobbled playfully. Fascinated, she watched it with a smile,
until it went slowly out like a dying coal and only darkness was left
Crouching behind a thick, gray-skinned tree, Choucun nestled
cozily among the leaves of bushes and plants that clustered at its
base. She smiled luxuriously, a patch of sun filtered through, insects
roved the air, a quiet had settled on the earth. The wind that had
earlier rushed through the trees making them bend and rustle so
feverishly had gone. Gone too was the parade of images that were
Earlier where she was running from tree to tree they would swoop
down and jiggle by noisily. But once near the shelter of a tree they
always missed their mark and it delighted her that she could just
sit while they hunted vainly for her. In the perfect afternoon she sat
smiling demurely at her cleverness, resting until the next running.
She passed the afternoon with the unflinching smile, never stirring.
The pain that had seemed so tlireatening was dormant; it thumped
by itself above her ear. It was cozy and comfortable, a companion
for the journey. She leaned back against the tree and saw through
the leaves of the bush a rough-edged circle of grass, sunlit, lumi-
nously green, and textured with bits of dry twigs. It blurred and
rose cautiously. She watched it, for a moment she was slyly amused,
and then quickly it was rushing at her.
But she was running; already she had sighted the stand of trees
that grew above on the rise of the hill. She turned smartly around
a bush, rushed past another, and left her pursuers a maddening trail.
The delight she felt in reaching the trees before them made her
laugh, she sat down weakly, waiting until the driving laughter
abated, and then she walked, ambHng carelessly among the trees,
along whatever path offered itself.
The land rose steadily; she climbed, stopping occasionally to watch
a bird, once a beetle industriously digging a hole, collections of
small flowers that hung from trees on threadlike vines, or tiny green
lizards that scampered onto a leaf and froze except for the quiver of
breath in their sides.
The sun had already fallen behind the mountains when she
reached the crest of the hill; a dull blue sky held a chain of bulbous
clouds edged by pink and shadowed in frothy blue. From this
point she could see the great plain hemmed in by the dark grov^^h
of mountains and choppy hills. Sheets of fields interlaced, spotted
bluish white by buildings on their edge. Fires bred smoke that hung
in blue banks over the dull green earth, red-orange fires, in thin lines
and specks. She watched until the land turned a smooth black, soiled
only by bits of red; the edge of the mountains faded into the sky
and the world went still and sightless.
A profound calmness lay over her, penetrating like damp into the
center of her stomach, the air had neither chill nor warmth, she
heard her breath rush in and drain out, a bird grated a call, and
in a distant pit in the darkness the voice of a drum beat languidly.
She lay down on the warm earth and let sleep, kept waiting too
long, come in a flood.
From a drainage ditch that bordered a still-burning cane field
Choucun looked up into the acrid smoky air; sparks drifted in a
gentle breeze. She lay in the stream, her head cushioned by the
grassy bank, and contemplated the sluggish water where dye spread
its cold blue. Dabbing at the cloth of her skirt that had bloated into
a blackish bubble above the clear green water, she watched it issue
brilliant little shoals of blue that dispersed slowly into pale growing
bruises or, caught by the gentle current, stretched away in muted
Her hand flicked at the bubble. She watched the fingers moving
spryly in their occupation— sweet little creatures. She sat up and bent
over to kiss one of them but, busy with play, it ignored her attentions.
Silly little creatures, she thought. Her distracted gaze wandered up
the trough of the ditch, past the crude bridge where the green alley
bent out of sight. There was a tinge of melancholy about this quiet
Before daylight had come the air had been bright with the flut-
tering orange light of fire, a gay wild party had raged over the high
bank, the laughter, shouts, shrieks, and bawling voices were entic-
ing to her. She spent a great deal of time gathering the courage
to force back her shyness and join them. But it had never come; be-
fore she was quite ready they all came across the bridge in a running
jangle of clattering steel, screams, fire torches sputtering as they were
swung and bounced. Everyone was setting up the gayest row, swear-
ing fearfully. Some carried squealing pigs over their shoulders, one
man carried two great bundles of hanging chickens, their legs tied,
they fluttered hke clouds in the torchlight. Several horsemen followed
and a rig laden with great bundles and casks had prancing cattle
strung in a line behind.
As they paraded along the road above she had several times come
near the courage to cry out and go along, but it didn't seem quite
right; in a foolish worn dress she might be looked down upon. Any-
way they were mostly men and only a quantity of rum could produce
such a reckless party; perhaps they might even think her a loose
woman and she had heard somewhere how that ended.
There would be other parties, more decorous ones; given notice,
she could prepare. But they had left the bright fires behind for her
and that was consoHng. She watched the orange glow until dawn
came; between the firelight and dayHght the sky was a riotous spread
over the world.
And now the sky was blue, smoke-streaked, and spattered with
sparks. She rose nimbly like a water animal crowned by a shaggy
crop of hair, black bodied, trailing blue water, blue dye staining
the rich brown color of her legs and arms. On the road she dodged
the silly little sparks that fell, nipping so saucily; in a half -stumbling
dance she giggled at every new sting.
Near the bridge she had gotten beyond the flying sparks; she re-
laxed her nostrils, pinched in against the bitter smell of burned cane,
and drew in the wondrous odor of burning wood that now spiced
the air. Across the bridge a lane separated the two lands: to the
left the black-stick, smoking earth of the great cane field where fire
far off in a red line moved steadily away, and to the right a green,
coarse-grassed park fenced in by crisscrossing, raw sapling stakes
heavy with a twenty years' growth of rosebushes that spread their
tendrils to join into a line along the lane. Late roses spotted the
sprawling green bushes in bluish-pink clusters. Smoke drifted in the
groups of trees; beyond the deep green mass of a laurel she saw
a delicate white pavilion. Timidly she crossed the bridge, planks
creaking under her step, and on the lane she listened; only the peb-
bles crunched underfoot and almost imperceptibly the distant crackle
of flame droned in this birdless world.
Gathering her ruined skirts, she mounted the fence where the
thorny roses allowed and tumbled over into the grass of the park.
For a while she lay quietly; a series of little pains gnawed, insouciant
in their play. Her left temple held the thick chubby one and deep
inside two worked side by side in mock seriousness at her stomach
and the small of her back. She rose and walked in the park; tlie
lattice pavilion was small, three high-backed chairs stood stifflv like
gossips huddled around a small table. She avoided them, distrustful
of their mood.
Revolt . . ,
Among the trees she hunted, looking up in the fruitless branches
until she came to an arched gate where a gold cassia tree was shim-
mering in the smoky breeze. She passed out into a court where an
orange tree caught her eye. Its fruit was for the most part green,
hanging heavily in waxy leaves, but there were a few rusty ones.
She plucked three and after much indecision she selected a shaded
spot on the border of grass that edged the court, kneeling and laying
the oranges before her. Arranging herself comfortably, she took the
ripest orange and bit into it to start its peeling. Her hand started
up, shaking, and her mouth, pushing and tearing the fruit, sucked
at the juice ruthlessly. Terrified, she commanded the hand to with-
draw, but it ignored her. A stream of tart juice cut acidly into her
tongue and burned down her throat. She looked away, ashamed of
being among such indecent creatures. She felt for a moment that
she had become trapped in a crude world without a truly refined
soul in it.
Ignoring the hands, she occupied herself with watching the roof-
less house across the court with the fire inside its stone walls. Flames
waved from the entrance and in the windows; now and then it
stuck up a gaudy red tongue over the walls. Nearer, a single chicken
perched on a stone fountain and dipped its beak in the shell-like
basin, lifting its head up to swallow, then dipping again. Satisfied,
it fluttered down with a squawk and pecked leisurely among the
Peeking from the comer of her eye, she happily found her hands
at rest; the tattered scraps of the oranges, pulp and peel, lay on her
lap. She rose, letting the debris tumble down, and gingerly picked
away the bits that clung.
At the bottom of the stone steps of the house she saw a bundle.
She backed up to it against the heat and after tv\'^o tries she managed
to pull it away. Opening the bundle, she found clothes, mostly men's
blouses, wrinkled and bunched, the ruffles hopelessly flat. They
would have to be ironed to decency again. Out of the clothes she
drew a pale blue cloth, embroidered with white silk designs of flow-
ers and birds, edged with an intricate lace, and tasseled at its corners.
Carefully she folded it, comer to comer, and flipped it over her head,
drawing it around her shoulders in a shawl. She whirled around in
it, marveling at what a treasure one could find with only a sharp
An emption in the house startled her, she watched a whooshing
billow of flame leap up over the house, it seemed to have frightened
the chimney that slowly leaned and fell in another exciting crash.
The flames were making merry inside the house and something about
it all was unpleasant, like a chattering, half- drunk woman gesturing
too broadly; everyone laughed but looked down demurely in em-
From the fountain she drank water spitting in a stream from the
mouth of a coiled stone dolphin. She splashed water on her face,
mindful of the new shawl, and, turning, she made her way around
the house, passing silent buildings, a lazy dog, bloody and speckled
with flies, and a pond where three white ducks upended themselves
and rooted industriously in the murky water.
A path led by a neat garden where she ate delicately, cautious
of her unruly hands, of fresh peas, fennel, and plump red rasp-
berries. A papaya tree at its edge was laden with ripe fruit and
she tucked one large one in the blouse of her dress.
Heavy with food, she lounged on a stone bench, enticing any play-
ful thought to stay, until she heard the party returning; horse hoofs
galloped on the pebbles and shouts came from the direction of the
house. No longer caring for such wild company, she climbed the
garden's fence and passed into the lush undergrowth, making her
way through its coolness up the rising hill. She turned once to see
a group of mounted whites in blue uniforms gallop up to the garden;
they sat stern and proud on their rich bays, then wheeled and re-
turned down the road.
As she climbed the undergrowth became heavier; she moved
against it, sensing the need to climb. There was a height that lay
always obscurely before her eyes, a high blue mountain that crouched
heavily on the earth, and also she saw her frail, tlireadlike figure
moving up along tlie spine. She felt tlie slow dimming of the world
rising again in her eyes, trees blurred, blossoms became fireflies, mo-
tionless, then they set about weaving sickly with the mottled mass
Before the feeling she lay down in expectance of sleep, her eyelids
closed out the plunging world; only the heaving of her body re-
mained, far down beyond the stomach she felt in the interior cave
of her body a working. Nothing else existed; it was a new power
growing to master the rest of her, and it was pleasure. Gently it led
her down to black sleep where no dream dared descend.
Across the curving lip of the mountain a steady wind drove a
shoal of rain clouds that coiled back into themselves, then, pushed
on by the wind, they sent out frets and fingers. A wispy, streaked
veil of gray rain hung down, its ends neatly eating down the green
hill, obscuring everything as it went. From the ridge below Choucun
watched it coming, its sound preceding it hke the crackle of field
Coming out of sleep, she had been startled to see the pine trees,
the barren, needle-covered slope of the hill under her and down to
where the filmy, glittering undergrowth began. Quickly she had
rolled over to see the curve of the hill and the clouds boiling over
its crest, nothing seemed real, yet it held the solidity of a real place,
it was no dream. Carefully she tried to understand, to dig down and
remember how she had gotten here from her room.
The sun went dim, she watched the edge of shadow sliding away
down the hill, eating up the spots of sun that hung in the trees, and
heavily she raised herself, startled at her dirty arms and her black-
nailed, shaking hands. She felt a metallic hardness in her mouth;
her tongue, lumpy and sluggish. Careful of the weakness in her legs,
she made her way to the base of a pine tree and held on to the
shaggy trunk, staring wide-eyed and unseeing, seeing only the shift-
ing murk of her memory. The hissing rain moved into the tree above.
Cold on her bare feet, she had crossed the slates of the roof as
the young black had done before. She remembered that she hadn't
wept. Silence. Her toes pained as they grated on the latticed wood;
halfway she had leaped out and landed on the grass. The thump had
echoed in her ears like the sudden slap of a drum and in fear of the
house she ran, depending on memory to guide her in the dark trees.
She dug again into memory, but nothing more came to her mind's
eye and she turned to work her way backward over the events.
Ti Jean was sitting on her bed, a dark form edged with lamplight.
He had said something that terrified her and she remembered the
feeling of her body, brittle with stiflfness, unmoving in the fear that
it would crack into chunks on the bed. And as she looked back Ti
Jean stood suddenly naked, dressing in the lamplight, his buttocks
hard and white, muscles worked in his back, appearing and dis-
appearing. The shirt fluttered white over them and battled to still-
ness. He turned, taking up the lamp, and went into the hall. In the
light she had seen his face; the sickly weak child she had played
with had miraculously turned into a man with a handsome, thin-
boned head. She smiled inside herself, proud for him.
The door was bolted from the outside. It had startled her from
the leadenness . . . And as children in the pool before the face of
the fountain they waded. Their clothes lay on the grass and, standing
rigidly in the cold water, they promised each other that they would
not splash, knowing that they would. Quarreling, they scooped their
double hands full of water up at each other's face and shouted their
childish oaths. Ti Jean stumbled back over the edge of the pool, land-
ing in a lump on the stones, and, blue lips howling, he twisted over
his elbow to study its scraped, bleeding skin. While she was consohng
him Gro Jean arrived quietly and slapped her from behind. Drag-
ging Ti Jean to his feet, his father beat his thin little buttocks in
sharp slaps with the flat of his hand. She ran from them through
the kitchen past Dephradine, silent and big-eyed at her nakedness,
to her room. Gro Jean followed. He came in, flushing red-skinned
in anger, and suddenly, surprisingly, he stopped short. She stood be-
hind her bed, damp and trembling, biting at her hand. Without a
word he turned and went out, bolting the door beliind him. Then
she cried out and shook the latch m fear that it would never be
opened again. . . .
Revolt . .
Rain pelted the trees and blew under them, carrying a cool spray
down the hill. She sat down on the bed of pine needles, staring
away from the sight of her shredded dress, the bluish legs, and mud-
caked feet, looking out at the far hill now pale green in the rain.
A feeling of vacant heat burned in her head, down her tliroat to
the hunger-infested hollow of her stomach. Food and water, she
thought, and, lurching to her feet, she traveled up the hill into the
From a depression in the rock she drank, kneeling down and suck-
ing up the water. Her throat contracted against it and she waited,
then drank again. Kneehng there, she felt that she must go back
again and find some explanation, but memory lay heavily as if in
wait for her and she felt weak before it.
Surprised by the willfulness of her feet, she moved slowly over
ledges toward a copse of trees, carefully hopping grass-filled fissures
in the rock. She felt certain that somewhere in the trees there would
be fruit. The rain was turning to a fine mist and the edge of the
far ridge was now sunlit; clear blue sky rose in a sharp line over it.
And abruptly she remembered the gold in its leather bag. Where
were her things? Her plans? Her holy Agwe? The thick form of her
memory moved against her, inevitably, so that she did not even try
to push it back. She stumbled toward the trees, pelted by each
memory rising wheel-like and spinning before her eyes. She
sprawled before its power with a lack of emotion, dully watching
faces and old dreams rise untH Lord Agwe spun up, bright blue,
rushing at her, bending over with a smile.
"Houngan Albert," she said in way of explanation, but her words
seemed in her ear flat, impertinent, unlike the feeling of relief that
she felt. The confusion muddled on in her head, but his round black
arms came about her and she wiggled fishlike toward the blue of
What a pleasure it was, just to sit and watch; there had never
been time. Comfortably propped up in the shade, she saw tlie whole
chattering parade of strangely elegant black people pass along the
path: lean, high-bosomed young women carrying rough baskets on
their heads; a cluster of whooping naked children ran by, agilely
darting among their elders, thick-shouldered men ambled by, naked
to the waist, in breeches and boots, calling to friends, addressing a
compliment to a girl. Strange, wondrous clothes wrapped and bound
the figures in dusty colors; brilliant turbans fluted and coiled; long
white dresses, a ruff at the sleeves and hem, waists tied in with bands
of orange, dull red, and blackish green.
On the rise of the hill a fire was smoking and there young brown
girls tended a huge carcass that revolved on its spit. Nearby the head
of a man in a plumed, cocked hat showed over the circle of restiess
young men who bobbed around him. Pistols hung at their hips and
they passed a gourd, drinking from it and laughing. A flute worked
like a nervous little bird against the tramp of a drum.
A hand shook her; she looked up and an oddly familiar young
girl bent down to her, full reddish-blue lips parted in a smile, the
teeth chalk white. A stream of delicate sounds came from the mouth;
it smiled. And, fearful of being discourteous, she smiled back.
"Me, me, me," the girl repeated in Creole, and, offered only a
smile, she leaped up and ran to a bamboo shed nimble under the
weight of its thatched roof. From it she reappeared, pulling a young
man in a blue coat that flashed sharply against his deep brown skin.
They came smiling, the girl fluttering jauntily ahead. They
squatted before her and chattered their musical bird sounds back
and forth, now smiling at her, now serious to one another.
"Madame Choucun," he said in Creole, "do you feel better?"
She nodded, as she felt that she must; in her body she felt nothing
and to his words pouring rapidly at her she only nodded. They were
confusing; the smooth surface of her mind began to bubble and
slowly circle nauseously. She braced herself, hands on the earth, and
nodded, then, feeling the nod a burden, she only smiled.
He gathered her up in liis anns. The blue cloth so near, so familiar,
and with it came rehef. The face of the girl popped up beside the
blue shoulder smiling eagerly, questioning.
"Agw6?" she said.
"Houngan Albert," Choucun said thickly, joining the game.
"Yes, yes, yes," the smihng mouth said, and continued into its lovely
The blue-coated man sat her in the cold water and the girl held
her up with one hand and brandished a white cloth with the other.
Chattering, the girl let go of her, watching seriously with a frown,
and, satisfied, she climbed the bank of the pool, fishing in a basket.
Choucun turned her eyes to the blue coat moving away. She
watched it sit down on a rock, its back to her.
The water from a ledge above fell smoothly into the pool, care-
fully as if from a bucket. Still, vmidless trees sprouted out of the
cover of vine and bush that clung along the ledge and lay coolly on
the bank. The surface of the pool was scored with widening circles
of ripples; she watched them move out and collide with the shore.
The blade of a knife flashed along her front, down between her
breasts, cloth tore, she closed her eyes, not caring what it meant.
Peeled like a skin, her dress came away and vaguely through her
blinking eyes she saw her soft blue body, the breasts, and below the
circle of stomach on the water. She closed her eyes and felt the lovely
warmth of hands rubbing her flesh. A languid wonder filled up the
emptiness inside her. It was an old dream come suddenly true, hands
caressing her and a lovely song being sung nearby.
She stood in the water following the commands of the pulling,
gently pushing hands. The sun was warm, the water cool as it
splashed over her. She opened her eyes and did not mind the blurred
scene around her, the moment was faultless, she could drift with it
and feel only secure.
The warmth of cloth covered her, its smell of freshness, of scented
soap, threatened to buckle the smooth path of her sensations with
memory. She edged away from the sweet and terrifying smell.
Then, rocking comfortably in arms, she was aware only of the
deep field of blue before her eyes that shifted in waves and clouds.
It would protect her and she could venture into sleep without fear.
On a bamboo and straw litter Choucun woke fully, at that brief
moment she remembered everything, and it seemed old, a useless
story to retell herself. The blacks were carrying her down a steep
path; she heard their conversation, the mixture of Creole: African,
French, and Spanish, the sharp little clicks of donkey hoofs; the slap
and thump of bare feet and boots. Too weak to raise herself, she
rolled her head to the side; Bougan was there. Desperately she
longed to cry out, but her tongue could not form the name. They
swung, undulating around a curve, and there, far away through the
trees, she saw the edge of land and the bright flat sea.
They are taking me there to die, she thought. How did they know?
So expert a choice. Where were the rest? the Jeans, great and small,
La Salle, old Dephradine, Diegoto? How long ago did they all live
together in Cap Fran?ais? Where were all those powers she once had
held: to freeze her spirit, to look and not see, to run away in her
mind and hide in laughter, in delight?
Bougan smiled down and they came out into the blinding sun.
Her eyes fell shut and she concentrated her whole being on resisting
the pain that rippled through her with each of their steps.
For days now she had Iain in the temple of houngan Albert
staring up at the thatched roof, counting off joints in the tlnck bam-
boo pillars that supported it, watching the white dress hung on a peg
unfurl and collapse on the breeze, letting every thought of the past
come and allowing herself no reaction. The women, the black
women, came fussing and feeding her, lifting the spread to wet her
down with a brew redolent of spices, combing and binding up her
long hair while the brew warmed her torpid flesh, and they smiled,
imploring a single word. She gave them none.
The old houngan, Albert, crouched by her with clay pots and
vials, emptying draughts, searing with rum, down her throat. How
solemn he looked; how carefully he moved at his work so that he
never met her staring, empty gaze. She heard everything that was
said and nothing took its place easily. When silence came she took up
their words and set tliem in order with a deadly precision. She was
Revolt . . .
tempted to cry out, to smash the na'ive story they wove over her, but
an enclosing inertia sealed her on the mat-covered earth.
And she had no wish to rise, to walk among them; she remem-
bered some of them and others like them on the beach at Cap
Fran9ais with their quiet scorn, their distrustful eyes. They had not
wanted her then. Too used to her own guiles and poses, she could
not beheve that their smiles would prove lasting. Lying here, she
could look pitiable, too fragile for them to find honor in hurting, and
so she would lay quietly until she had gathered strength to slip
away, down to the sea, to a boat. It amused her that she always
heard, saw everything, and had her own plans. Let them fuss.
Slowly her powers were returning; soon she could shove away
the sharp thrusts of memory. Everything here and before could be
cut back like encroaching weeds; it would be in her power to kill
the words and the images that plagued her. But, as yet, the whole
structure she was building tended at times to fade and twist, mean-
ings became unclear, pieces so carefully fitted unloosed themselves
and shifted awry.
At times, eddying in— were they real or not?— she saw herself dully,
stupidly, telling every detail she knew of La Salle, Gro Jean, the
gossip of La Satte and Ti Jean as the houngan bent over, embracing
his knees. Some blessed wind in her mind would come pushing its
heavy air over the terrible images, then fainting or sleep would come
as engrossing as an ecstasy.
A woman, the old one called Binde, came in and uncovered her;
she took a branch of hard palm fiber, dipped it in the iron pot of
brew, and, snapping it, sprayed Choucun until she was wet again.
The old woman crouched and probed at her stomach with long
bone-and-skin fingers, smiling up at Choucim's empty eyes.
/ know, I know, she wanted to yell at her. Dont smile.
The women had said among themselves that she carried Diegoto's
child and, cooing, they promised over her that her man would soon
come. She did not want to see those shy eyes that would so readily
trust her. The feel of his strong eager hands was an old memory, one
to be killed along with memories of other hands. There was so much
to be destroyed: Bougan, huge of eye, weeping over her, repeating
over and over, "Me, ine, me"; houngan Albert, sad-eyed and silent,
grayish of skin as he worked over her; and the rest, the smiles, the
train of bobbing faces that milled about her mind. She wanted only
Lord Agwe, a boat and France, to be far away, beyond this place,
As strength gathered itself in her she found the days more trying,
the nights somehow worse. The life of the runaways revolved about
their temple. They came in the light to houngan Albert for his
draughts, his pots of salve, to have his words on a wailing child or a
listless goat. And at night they came to the drum, to sing and dance
the ceremonies, or, earlier in the twilight, to sing the old tribal songs
in high, flutelike voices, in the Congo dialect or Dahomey or Ashanti.
In these times of amusement they had the sound of flutes and
gossiping birds, but later, when the ceremonies began, they had the
sound of the drum and the clang of iron. Muted, somber males
chanted and the shrill pierce of women's voices darted among the
monotonous beats of the drums. They coaxed down the central altar
pole the spirits of their gods, their mysteres, asking them to enter
their dance- and chant-exhausted bodies. Choucun longed to fall in
with them, to move with the drum until the body and the mind
faded, and white, cold white as morning mist, all of the being floated
out to the god.
In a hot afternoon she drifted out of sleep? a fainting spell? a
daydream? Her brain was hot and ashen in her head. Houngan
Albert frowned down with a sullen look that seemed to speak of
sorrow. He quickly turned from her eyes, gathering his vials and
clay pots, and disappeared into the draped-off door of the altar
Vaguely she felt a new horde of memory perched above her and
viciously she pressed down her mind and sought out sleep.
Along the thin bright strand that stretched awav in her mind,
hedged in on either side by forbidden ground, she traveled, holding
to a careful slow step. Sleep would not come. But with caution she
might stay on the path, moving to some safety felt beyond sight.
Some time later he Hfted her and, busy with her own journey, she
did not look out on the other.
Then, whether it was a minute or an hour she didn't know, he
pressed a vial to her lips and let the sweet liquid trickle down her
tongue. Soon the bright strand darkened and she opened her eyes
to the naked world, unfettered by dreams or fancies. He bent over
her and looked into her cloudless eyes.
The room was a hut of bamboo and thatch open at its side. She
lay on a rush mat covered by the white cloth splotched gray with
the wet of the brew. The houngan squatted on a stool beside her,
and she felt again as she had when they were together when she
was a child, when a Sunday's journey to the beach was a great event.
She smiled at him, but he was as if not there, staring past her into
the wall of woven palm fronds.
"Diegoto will come today," he said at last.
"As a hero."
"Oh— I am happy for him," she smiled.
He fell silent, taken again by staring, the wizened skin gathering
into a knot of creases between his brows.
"Choucun, go away," he said wearily. "I have no means to protect
It was a plea; it slashed across the clear face of her mind.
"I do not know the hearts of gods, only of men. Where the gods
are taking you I cannot know. Within you, you know everything I
could say, save what I've never had the courage to say before. It is
a story of your mother. I will tell it and leave you to yourself."
He spoke coldly, eager to be through his tale.
"As I said before we had our plans and when she knew you were
coming she became silent and in the end she turned away. But once
she came to me before that and told me of two men, they had taken
her in a single night. She asked a boon from me, to find by my ways
the one who was your father. With proper prayers and ceremonies
a key placed in a holy book will turn at the truth. And so it was,
La Satte and Gro Jean— the key turned for Gro Jean and she went
He rose stiffly and went out.
"Houngan Albert!" she called after him.
He came back, shifting his eyes from her.
"Give me a boonl For my mother's love, give me that ceremony/'
Without looking at her he shook his head and retreated.
She was too busy, snatching as it came, the old mind, the old ways,
seeking out laughter, slowly bit by bit. The life of the camp noisily
clipped at her eflports, she saw her dress hung by the houngan at the
door, his eyes were averted. "The dress is too unclean for his temple?"
she cried out, and fell to giggling. He fled from her laughter. A
moonfaced child appeared at the door and tossed pebbles to her.
A sharp, henlike cry called him away. Birds pecked at the seed
heads of the grasses outside and fluttered in the trees that banked
to a wall beyond the hut. She gathered her old powers; tlie world
turned slowly sweet and gay.
Sharply in the bright light Diegoto appeared. He came quietly
as in reverence. Of the dead, she thought, and a shred of laughter
came like a cough. He seemed like a bold man playing at being a
shy boy and, kneeling, he looked into her eyes and he smiled. He
raised her listless hand to his rough cheek and, smiling, smiling, he
"You don't worry, girl, houngan Albert told me the whole thing,
what you talked about in sleep and ceremonies, Ti Jean, all things.
Old houngans can be wrong as even we. I get two strong men to
carry you to my camp, to my houngan, then we wait to see. Don't
worry, that baby be mine."
Sweetly she was grasping her returning powers in chunks, clasping
them tightly. The sweet dark child-man so dashing in rough clothes
was delightful. She burst into a laughter whose gaiety sheathed her
with a luminous armor. He put his head down on her shoulder for a
moment and quickly, sniiHng, he rose.
Revolt . . .
**You wait, I ride over for my men. Rest. Sleep. I will be back by
morning," and he ran out into the sun, turning to smile again, and
disappeared around the edge of the hut.
For over an hour she waited, closed in her silence, then slowly
hearing the leaves scratching out in the waning hght. A drum was
being languorously thumped; birdlike calls and chatter came with
the scuS of feet, so nice, composing itself as song.
When night came the drums moved out into the beat sacred to
Agwe and she fought dully against a longing to leap up at every beat.
Chants rose and she mumbled them, holding her body woodenly, no
longer sure that a ruse was in her power. Somewhere the drums
ceased, the voices fell to a buzz, and feet shuffled their ways into
Alone again, she lay making an accounting of her gains over these
days, the number of days she had succeeded in forgetting as she
had forgotten all the days before. No one existed before this night
and surely tomorrow they too would be gone. She held her sparse
collection tightly: Agwe, his face bright as gold, in a blue coat— the
boat and the beautiful, still world of French gardens, palaces, and
With consistency she began inside herself to smile at the present,
to turn it quickly and neatly to laughter. There were, as yet, somber
patches, but that would change too as all things had changed under
the force of her mind.
She sat up; the blur of night before her eyes moved sickly. Slowly
over the rest of the night she rose and dressed herself in the coarse
white dress she had contemplated over the days. It clung, damp with
night and chilling. In the dark she found the stool where she knew it
would be and rested, bowing her head into her folded arms, gather-
ing the body, concentrating the mind behind it for support.
Nausea roamed her stomach, and sharply she cut off the thoughts
that raced about the unfamihar weight that grew below. It was the
mouth of a stream that led back over places, names, and events that
now lay still in a repose of death.
In the first of the hght— the trees soft and gray as spirits— she
moved outside, across the compound, to the silent empty temple and
sought the path leading down. Out of the words of the women she
had divined its direction and exactly as she expected it opened
between screens of cane that lay behind the altar shed. She
passed before the dark trees and set a ripple of laughter on the light
air, then quickly she started dowoi, sensing her direction as she had
before sensed the high mountains.
And so she traveled, seeing sharply with the eyes of her protective
instinct the movements of masses of men— "Hide"— or small groups—
"in that clump of bushes, hide," the instinct would say— or gone-
wild red-eyed cattle that lumbered menacingly, or dogs who
were driven off by rocks, by torrents of meaningless words, and a
threat to pick up a stone that was not there. She sat on the crest
of a knoll and watched a group of soldiers making merry with a
screaming black and later— only later, no count of day or hour stood
out in her flow of time— she wandered by a fire-blackened house
where silent, stiff, and naked whites hung in the trees.
Later, in another dawn, she walked up the driveway of Gro Jean's
mansion; it stood oddly white in the first of the day as if afloat the
black sea of lawn. Mudded clouds had slowed the usual rush of the
sun; the ephemeral house was perfectly still, shuttered against the
day. She moved upon it slowly, cautiously; that power which she had
bowed to came with an animal's instinct, it sniffed the breeze for
danger, sharp of ear it knew the meanings of distant sounds.
But quietly the whole universe lay, pierced only by the jagged call
of an early-waking cock. She skirted the house, went into the garden,
and carefully in entering she wiped her muddy feet on the mat at the
kitchen door. Immediately as the door swung she saw the bird cage
and it set upon her a strange spell. With a nervousness she took it
down and, embracing it, she chuckled.
"Ti oiseau, little bird," she cooed.
The lump of yellow feathers rustled, a bland consciousness came
up into her eyes, her borrowed instincts faltered. The half- dark
kitchen evoked another time, rushing out at her from every object.
"My God" she said softly, and she shut her eyes, feeling her way
back to the secmity of laughter. With an expert deftness now she
wrenched herself around and achieved her goal: dehght came
She moved through the silent house, the bird fluttered and set
about gyrations, chirping brazenly in the stillness. Up the staircase,
down the hall, past doors to her own. She set the cage down smartly,
slid the latch, and went in.
A gray light illuminated the twin masses of the beds, the old
black woman's and her own, and in such a statel Rumpledl She
lurched as she trod on a shoe.
"Who's that?*' The spread moved and out of it a head rose, bound
in a white cloth.
Obviously a servant, she thought. Sleeping in her rooml
"Go back to sleep, you re not wanted.'*
Choucun got down on her hands and knees at the place she knew
the bundle would be.
"Who you?" the voice asked.
Choucun giggled up at the fool. "The lady of the house, who else?—
I left a bundle here and it seems to be gone. Have you seen it?"
She rose from the floor and dusted herself. "I said, have you seen
*Tou that Choucun?"
Oh dear, she thought, it's impertinence.
"I can only think you must have taken it if you refuse to answer
me. Where are my things? I had gold there, you know."
The head lowered into the rumple of the spread; she seized it
before it disappeared and pulled it up again.
"The clothes aren't important but I need the gold, it's promised."
"I don't know nothing 'bout gold. You go ask Gro Jean, yes?"
Under her hand she felt the head trembling; it was oddly em-
barrassing. She let it go and it sank out of sight, wiggling under the
"I will do just that," Choucun said quietly, and went out, picking
her way for fear of other loose shoes. Untidy, she decided of the
servant as she took up the cage and went along the haU.
At Gro Jean s door she paused, fumbHng at its sight. It had a
clarity that was strange to her, a famihar object unseen before, the
dark wood, joined in its design of octagonals and merging crosses.
An old fear was recalled by its sight, the body reacting to some other
power in herself, lean, hidden, a subterranean fugitive that stretched
up a hand to hold her.
She shook herself against it and pressed it away. She had her plan;
it was her peace. Throwing back her head, she wagged it and pro-
duced a smile. It was as if she would attack the door and she
whimpered a staccato soimd: then sharply she rapped the door, her
body went loose, and she fidgeted in pique.
"Who's there?*' his voice called angrily.
"Papa?" she called back lustily.
^Who is itr
The hallway went alive, doors opened, the lights of lamps flashed
in the comers of her eyes, she did not look but bowed her head,
straining to hear some movement beyond the door. A light flared
and grew in the sht under the door and a dim rumbling of movement
was at work in the house.
"Who is it?" he called again uncertainly.
"Go away," he yelled back at her.
She opened the door and strode in. Gro Jean was standing in the
center of the room, he turned and retreated behind the bed, then
peered into the half-light, squinting.
"It's my gold, I've got to have it. I just can't always be asking Lord
Agwe's help empty-handed. I remembered very clearly leaving it
under my bed. Where is it now?"
Gro Jean was silent, openmouthed, so like a frightened child, it
seemed in the soft light of the lamp.
"Oh, Papal Doesn't anyone want to answer me?"
She wandered over to the chaise longue and flounced down,
holding the cage on her lap. A figure entered the room; she waved
**Go back to sleep/*
But it continued into the light. As the face of Ti Jean became clear
a sullenness came upon her.
"I don't like you," she muttered. She turned her eyes quickly to
"Papa, please, have you got my gold?" she asked coaxingly.
"Is she drunk?" Ti Jean asked his father.
He shook his head and watched her as if she might fly upon him.
"Do you mean you don't have my gold or you won't give it to me?
Papa, I don't want be angry with you," she smiled, *T3ut facts are facts,
my gold is gone."
The two of them, her father and the lean young one, were facing
each other across the bed. It was annoying to be ignored. They
stared at each other.
The young one spoke. **What's she saying? Papa?" His voice was
harsh, demanding; it grated on her.
Something lurched inside her. She was losing ground and strug-
gling to remember what she had come for.
Gro Jean was shaking his head at the lean young man; a thin
whistle of air came from his open mouth.
"Liar! Liarl" Ti Jean shouted.
She leaped up; he was going across the bed. Her father darted
past her, a look of terror on his face. Feeling in some vague way that
she must protect the old man, she rushed at the younger one and
coUided with him. He twdsted away from her; she hit the side table
and pitched against the bed. A feeling, sickly and dim, rose up in her
body, but she pushed it away.
He stood looking at her; An animal, she thought, like before, the
wild cattle on the burning plain before they charged. She took up
the lamp and held it high as a threat.
"No, Choucun," he said softly.
He moved toward her and she hurled the lamp. It moved, slowly
it seemed, across the air and crumbled at his feet. Oil and fire leaped
out, on his night robe, on the floor mats.
The old man rushed in and ripped away the spread. It flew up,
whirHng, twisting birdlike, and attacked the younger one, envelop-
She darted past the puddle of flames and rescued her bird. The
air was smoky and choking; she ran from it into the hall. Wliatever
it was she came for was in her room. She ran that way. A white-
dressed black stood against the wall like a statue holding a lamp.
Out of curiosity she ran toward it and it fled. Along the dark hall
she sauntered, a door was open. Inside a lamp was lit. She went for it.
And in her hand it felt strange, powerful; she remembered how
she once threw it long ago. She snatched at an old trick of her mind
to ward ojQF the power. But her hand paid her no mind. The lamp
hurtled and shattered against a sti£F, high-backed chair that was
menacing, it seemed, and she ran with her bird cage banging and
At the head of the staircase she paused, wondering; what was it
she had come for?— No matter. Holding her skirts out delicately, she
descended the stairs; the bird quivered with a fierce activity inside.
The sound of the world was brittle; it screeched and crackled in her
She passed through the foyer out the front door and beyond the
gates faces poked their heads around the stone wall. A man came
rushing through toward her. She wheeled and ran to the garden,
through it, into the woods, moving in a long Imige tlirough tlie trees.
At the beach she ran aimlessly; a fatigue was growing in her, it
felt soft and even and welcome. The dawn was turning to dav; the
low gray clouds were breaking, far over the bay in the plains sunlight
was flaring. The bird cage in her hand quivered no more, a pleasant
quiet was drifting into the world, into her.
She saw, bobbing on the water, the first boat, tiny and bedracj<Tled.
She entered the sea quickly, feehng only tliat she must not forget
something— a cluster of things. She waded out, hoisted the bird cage
in, and wearily pulled herself up, into the boat. She held her mind
still, letting a succession of memories follow. She raised the anchor
rock, slid off a mooring rope from its piling, and pulled at the ropes
that hung about the mast until she found one that moved the sail.
Several times she faltered and the sail smacked down; the boat
drifted toward shore. Finally she got it up and lashed it under a
metal loop. Her hands were shaking; they seemed distant at the
ends of her arms. She tottered to the tiller, as she remembered she
must, and turned it. The sail flapped and went taut, the boat
quivered and darted toward the shore. She jerked the tiller and,
twisting sharply, the boat moved toward the back of the bay and the
tov/n. But slowly it wheeled and then shook. The sail went dead and
listless, then billowed.
She watched it, amused at its violent moods. The land was be-
hind her, and, skittering and prancing, the boat moved toward the
dark blue of open sea, the long hne of reefs white with foam.
Then, grinding and moaning on the coral rock, the boat slipped
on a wave and dropped wdth a shudder and a crackling. A thick wave
moved under it, it leaped up and shd, turned on the wind that bent
the sail down, and slid again in a rush. Suddenly as if caught from
behind the boat was shoved seaward and bounced merrily.
And while the boat was busy with its dance Choucun was tossed
about; she hung on the lashing tiller and clenched the cage in her
knees. A vague feehng that something mitoward was happening to
her unsettled the calm of her mind. But when the boat had leaped up
she remembered the hand of the god.
Agwel She seized on the name and remembered the blue cloth of
his coat when once, somewhere, he had carried her gently to a bath.
She let go of the tiller and rested. Under the boat he was hidden,
holding her up; she laughed with all of her body, her head tlirown
back. And she remembered France.
When the long, racking laughter subsided she drew up her feet
from the cold water in the bottom of the boat, set tlie cage beside
her— the still bird lay on the floor of the cage, wet and sleeping as
any other creature; it was magicall Ahead was the rim of the sea,
gray-banked in cloud and fog.
After a time fatigue was gaining on her again. A foot burned with
a pain of fire. Delight was hard to hold. There was a sadness in the
air, disquieting! Even the knowledge of the god below her failed to
give her delight; perhaps he was not tliere now; the boat was half full
of water and it was rising.
She turned, looking back. The sun was bright on the land. Near
the mound of hills smoke was drifting out over the bay toward the
sea and her. It was unpleasant in the lovely scene. Once before she
had seen the land from tlie sea, on another boat, the houngan Albert
. . . And such a rush of memory descended that she turned her eyes
back to the sea ahead. The wild careen of images pounded her so
that she gasped for air and the body threatened to buckle and leave
For a long time she sat limply with a metallic brittleness invading
her mind, cutting back her power, leveling the walls of its once-safe
rooms. Tlie body growled with hunger; pain was busy in her stomach
below where the child grew and in her feet and legs; a hot thickness
was in her mouth. She waited for this new power to pass, but it held
on tenaciously and grew.
Father, she thought fearfully. But there is none, she admitted.
Gro Jean and La Satte, that name that hung alone without a face-
no one knew, not even the man. Behind her all mysteries would live
and die, theirs and her own.
"Where has this long journey led me?" she asked. "Whv?"
At length she picked up her cage and, bending to avoid the flag-
ging sail, she waded through the water in the boat and went to the
Ahead fog was bright with sun; it was mottled whites on the blue
sea. The boat moved sluggishly toward the bank of fog: it was the
end of the sea. Holding the cage in one hand, she spread her amis
and began to chant an invocation to Lord Agwe. "Protect me," she
Revolt . . .
spliced into the sounds of the chant that had always been meaning-
less to her. And, wide-eyed, she stood smiling, her arms spread, as
the boat entered the fog: the white darkness where the god waited
• • •
On the green hill of Maraval high, sweet perfumes drifted from the
lace-frocked, broad-hatted women who hurriedly ascended its steep
paths. They came in their best for the wedding of Congo Bara and
his Felice. Fanning busily not to perspire to limpness, freshly ironed,
carefully coiled hair, they traveled up the stony dirt paths on high-
heeled shoes, discounting the torture involved, for this was the great
social event of the year. Felice and the catch of the village, the gentle
and industrious Congo, were to be wed in all the trimmings.
Angie Twitchell leaned on a big rock to catch her breath and
after a moment of rest, in fear of being late, she rustled her pink
taffeta dress and set off again on one heel three inches high, the
other four and a half. She had her private thoughts about building
a church on top such a hill; so far as she could see, prayer in the
bottom of tlie well was as good as the mountaintop.
Brother Good, Brother Bad
Above and below her, on other paths from all directions, the
villagers and those round about came. In new white suits the men
swaggered along too; sharp bright ties and straw hats, worn at a
slant, gave them the look of lucky gamblers. Some who could not
afford a new suit wore rehcs dug out of chests and hampers, the
sleeves three quarters, the pants three quarters. The work of moths,
termites, and other raiders was mended nearly out of sight; hot irons
and steam had pressed creases to perfection. Whether young or old
they came to pay their respects to the couple, arriving on top the
hill where the Httle white church sat, to their eyes, like a huge, squat
Father Richards, pale-skinned and sharp-nosed of Indian blood,
stood before it in his purple and red robes, conversing with the
milling guests. Some were pohtely curious of late church news; some
fussed over details, particularly the lateness of a few and specifically
the maid of honor, Blanche, the bride's sister.
But shortly, with beaux stringing behind, she appeared over the
hiU, easy stroUing her big body for a calculated late entrance. She
seldom had an opportunity for a real dress-up, so she had made the
most of it: white eyelet over an orange slip, her hat a crownless
pinwheel of purple-dyed horsehair edged with black lace. Her
suitors, recently fallen to seven since Shiv Payne's drowning, aroused
the cluster of idle musicians. They set them to work, following their
improvisations as they sang on Blanche in Creole:
Blanche elle noire
Avec une belle figure . , .
Monsieur, garde sa,
Elle est dance Bele . . .
Wyo-yo, elle est dance Bele . . .
This tickled her to flesh-shaking giggles as she strutted against the
impromptu song, the white-eyelet dress flashing its orange spots and
switcliing taut over her full hips. She worked them hard to give a
But at the height of her froHc a drummer broke the rhythm in a
crescendo of fast beats; someone shouted, "The bridel" and over the
hill came FeHce, mounted on her father's shoulders. Old man Glasco
had almost strained himself carrying his light daughter in her heavy
dress up the steep green hill. But he was happy and proud. Felice
was his elder daughter and he had rightfully spent a good deal of
money on the wedding dress and veil, the veil delicate and very
long, the dress chalk-white satin hand-embroidered in ecru silk. So
as not to get it soiled he carried her, setting her down only when the
hard-swept stone steps to the church were underfoot.
After one good look the guests filed in singing "Here Comes the
Bride," to see Congo Bara, a nervous bridegroom, in a powder-blue
suit, awaiting his Felice. The preacher whisked down the aisle.
Sporadically the indignants shushed the chatterers. The sickly organ,
gaining power by the second, played the wedding march and Felice
appeared, dewy and fragile on her solemn father s arm.
In a hush the preacher performed the ceremony and while the
bell rang the kind of people who always cry at weddings also cried
at this one.
The ceremony held its solemnity until the very end, when the
couple, all shy smiles, hastened up the aisle, and then the rush and
push to dig out rice bags and jostle in hne for the traditional pro-
cession to the cake began. But before the aisles were emptied the
line halted. The bride hesitated at the church door where a sudden
big-drop rain was falling. Congo Bara peeked out, careful of his new
suit, to see a single bundle of cloud shot with dark blue. He an-
nounced formally that there would be a moment's delay.
First bridesmaid OUve said, "It's a good sign, it's a good sign. You
see even Mother Mary sprinkHn happy tears." Everyone set up, "Qui,
oh yo yes, yes." But there were frowns.
The rain did stop soon. Following the couple, the procession was
led over the wet, new-cut lawn to a grove of great laurel trees for
the "stickin' " of the cake. Rice flew in all directions, finding resting
places on the broad hats of squealing ladies, in their silk flowers and
tucks, lace and straw.
Brother Good, Brother Bad . . .
A white tablecloth, a great-grandmother relic, sun-bleached these
seven weeks and lightly starched, draped the long table. On it lay
the cake, white with lemon-colored frosting flowers and a tiny silver
bell in a pavilion of ribbon, bottles in quantity and crocks, dainty
plates, glasses, and silver.
The procession circled the table. Now this was the moment that
almost all the bridesmaids were waiting for: they were anxiously
awaiting kisses by their escorts. First bridesmaid Olive was sure to
be kissed by Willton, for Willton was always making eyes at her, so
she made sure that her hat was securely on. Myrtle didn't particularly
want to "stick" cake with Theodore, for she had eyes for Willton,
but, being practical, she settled for what was at hand. Daphne was
contented with her beau, Alexander, for they were childhood sweet-
hearts and already engaged. She had watched the ceremony closely,
for she was determined to outdo Felice in her wedding.
The cake was "stuck," first by the bride and groom, then by the
bridesmaids. Regardless of who kissed whom the kisses were juicy
and public. Contagious, too. Kisses were planted full and square on
every side. Local gossips noted that several husbands had wandered
This was followed by a deep-throated cough and a long speech
by Mr. J. M. Dalton, Felice's godfather, who drew his thin little tight-
suited body to full height, recalling Felice as a lovely girl, well
mannered, obedient, good to her mother— "who livin' wid Gawd"—
and on he plunged and droned all flowery and sugar and sweet birds
Pursed lips around waited for some mention of the darker side,
but disappointingly he wished the couple nice fat children, faltered,
and ended by rekissing the bride.
By this time the bridesmaids had begun to perspire in rivulets and
the men, who were not used to wearing ties, were being strangled.
But this was the wedding of the year, the highest social event, and
they suffered for the cause.
"Let we toast!" she cried. "We mus' toast dem." Miss Teresa fussed
her withered self to the center of the table. She had made a present
of twelve bottles of mountain-dew rum, which consisted of highly
potent fermented ripe bananas and cane. The secret oi its formula
rested in her head alone and she was rightfully proud of it. In pale
lilac satin shoes, hat and purse to match, this three-tooth witch
cackled gaily as she passed the glasses. But there was not enough, so
children were sent to strip the church's well of its collection of
Some fussed, some cussed, but these were only the women. They
had gone to expenses to come to this wedding and they weren't
going to be insulted by having to drink from enamel utensils.
The men gladly took the enamel cups, eager for the mountain-dew
and the first attack on the brain. The brew fell in their gullets,
downed without a wink, and Father Richards retreated to his altar
to pray for all sinners.
Music was fluted and drummed. Felice and Congo swung out
dancing happily, feeling only slightly the marriage pain of making
Soon ring curls dribbled along foreheads or unwound down be-
tween eyes. The women had either lost or removed their hats; the
men had slackened their ties. Gay hours passed until a strange odor
overwhelmed the party. Echoing over the hill came a rude voice
singing "Here Comes the Bride," For a moment the guests were busy
wondering if their perfumes had worn ofF and they were not entirely
sure until the intruder appeared.
It was Garnet, Congo's brother, who held in his hand an atomizer
that contained orange-colored perfume and smelled like three dead
men. His clothes were in bits hanging to pieces, patches and
threads, all grime colored to grays, and under his arm he carried a
parcel wrapped in grease-stained brown wrapping paper. The guests
were shocked, the groom insulted, the bride afraid, for Garnet was
an evil one. He dealt in the black arts with Mama Celeste and was
called, along with her, devil.
"Oh Gawd, wat he here for?" Felice whimpered as she climg to her
father. Congo stood with the men, fists doubled. Women turned
their backs, twisting up curls and looking big-eyed at one another.
Brother Good, Brother Bad
They held onto either their hats, their drinks, or their god. Some,
tlie mothers, grabbed onto their hats and left hastily with their crying
children stumbling and fast-stepping as their mothers dragged them
Garnet smiled like a cat at the disintegrating group and grandly
cmrtsied his long body. He walked over to Congo and, thin-eyed, he
said, "Little Brother, ah still love you. And to show how much ah
love you, how happy ah is for you, ah went to plenty trouble to get
here. Ah have no special clothes, only dis special perfume for dis
very special occasion." He squirted himself to emphasize the point.
Congo stood silent with the silent party as Garnet took the parcel
from under his arm and began to open it.
"Ya see, ah even brought ya a present," he continued, "ah go
come back when it full— smiling."
And when the paper fell away he laid a white baby's coflBn among
the wedding presents.
"For you first baby," he said, and he leaped up in a big burst of
laughter, running down the road and spraying himself with his
Congo and the men ran after him, picking up big rocks and sticks
along the way. Fehce fainted. Without even a hasty excuse most of
the party left, taking the long back way over the liill and praying
for a strong wind to drive away the eye-watering stink of Garnet's
The bridesmaids hovered over Felice, fanning and pouring ad-
vice on old man Glasco's ear as to how she might be brought around.
Big Blanche had the sense to slap her hard. Almost immediately she
jumped up and ran around screaming, "Wyo yo, wyo yo . . . Oh
Big Blanche caught her train and pulled her down; they held onto
her until she settled to quiet tears. Congo and the men dragged back,
telling how Garnet had passed into the trees of the ravine and just
disappeared. Tearfully Felice asked Congo, "Wat he go do? Wat he
go do? He go thief ma child and kill it?"
Congo kneeled over her and was silent. Everyone rushed to re-
assure her that there were ways to deal with an evil thing. "Ah cuss
de day he born," Congo said low and mean, the men slapped his
shoulder and looked serious and sympathetic. Blanche started telling
all the times she had had a curse set on her and how none had
worked. But Felice was sad-eyed; the fear was strong.
"All ya pick up de drums and beat music," Blanche instructed her
attending beaux. "Let we dance and make merry, eh?"
The men played but no one danced. Congo hung over his Felice,
who was staring right past him at nothing but the green trees.
After the first of fear had flown over, the gossips who held on for
the last titbit— fear shaking in their bones or not— set up a buzz.
Daphne, who had plans for a wedding to set the mark for years to
come, was feeling down. "How ah go beat dis?" she muttered.
Alexander, her beau, poked her and motioned to the road. She
turned, looked, and muttered again, "Oh, ma Gawdl"
Quickly she gathered the other bridesmaids, instructing them in
hisses. They surrounded the couple, pelting them with rice until
they covered their heads for protection. The other guests circled
around as along the road a funeral procession made its way to the
church. The group put up their backs to the bad omen as Felice
cried out in vain for mercy from the stinging rice.
When the land was clear and only the empty road and the inno-
cent-looking church were in sight, Blanche called a halt. Felice got
up a little bit angry; Congo was mystified. But Blanche grabbed her
sister up and hugged her hard, then demanded that she toss the
The bridesmaids arranged themselves, jostling greedilv for a good
position, and Felice, a pout on her face, wound up and threw the
bouquet. It rose high, almost straight up, hit a branch of the tree,
fell, then caught and hung by its ribbons.
Daphne, screaming hke she had gone into fits, pulled at Alexander,
shoved him in position, and scrambled up his back. Teetering wildlv,
she pulled down the bouquet and tumbled, skirts and screams, to
tlie ground. Alexander set upon her, pulling at her legs and anus,
Brother Good, Brother Bad . .
checking for broken bones, but she lay smiling happily, the bouquet
clutched in one hand.
Congo and FeHce had taken this opportunity to run for the road.
A few guests ran after them to throw more rice and the rest called,
"Happy day . . . happy days . . ." It echoed over them and the
green hill of Maraval as they descended to their new life.
The cane was cut and planted and cut again; coffee blossoms
unfolded and fell. Even the most patient gossips left off their tales
of Garnet and his orange perfume. But as they set upon fresher meat
Congo Bara and Felice lagged behind; firmly planted in the back of
their minds, the curse set and they sometimes wondered and some-
times knew that Garnet would come back. The happiness in their
eyes as they looked at one another hardly ever suggested that a fear
lay behind it. But each knew the other smiled too often, too shyly.
Felice, at length, felt the signs of a new life within her body and
set about the preparations for the unborn. She spent her days with
the women buying blue and pink cotton and laces, then over them
with their scissors and needles they chattered from that reservoir of
advice that the older women parcel out to the young with such
solemn authority. Smiling over the women jokes that she did not
always understand and bearing high tales of fertility, FeHce rev-
eled in pride before the envious faces of unproven brides. She
deftly showed her mettle to the older women as she told of Congo's
paleness and how much she got to spend only by calling what she
wanted "a real necessityl" They laughed and chattered, the young
brides silent, drinking in the words of these sages.
Congo, feeling a good head taller, set out to work harder to support
his approaching offspring. In the huge cacao plantation that lay by
the village he held the high position of head cutter, which meant
that he did not cut cacao at all. When in the dawn the conch horn
called him and his men to work he divided them into gangs and
set their lanes of work. To encourage them to cut faster, he im-
provised work chants, beating on a tree with a bamboo stick to set
his pace. The ripe cacao pods, red, yellow, and purple, hung among
their leaves that turned aqua and chartreuse. In padded hats long-
poJers, armed with a hooked knife called a goulet, plucked pods
from high in the trees; cutlasses nipped off the lower ones. Boys
gathered the harvest and, loading filled baskets on their heads,
they loped to a clearing by a stream where women waited. In one
cut of their knives the women opened the pods and collected the
pink beans into well-patched burlap bags. Congo's song was in the
trees, spreading over the gangs with no need to use his eye or
sharpen his tongue; they worked happily, eager with a joke and a
One afternoon in a part of the plantation where a black rock rose
as high as the trees Congo led his gangs. They dragged behind,
fearing this place, this black rock, for ages said to be the devil's rest-
ing place. A good harvest lay around the rock and Congo went
ahead to calm fear and entice the bravery in his men. He sat on the
edge of the rock singing and the men began plucking down pods,
laughing nervously at each other like boys in a night's graveyard.
All afternoon they worked and at rest-time some of the young
bucks opened their canteens and sat with Congo on the rock, calling
saucily to their elders, who sat grimly quiet among the trees.
When later Congo led the men from their work it was the old ones
who smiled. From an overhanging branch a boa constrictor lowered
his head and dropped heavily before Congo, then struck. Congo
dodged swiftly, fell, and scuttled into the bush.
Before the flashing cutlasses of the men the snake retreated its
near twenty feet of body into the dark of the trees and, once there,
the men did not dare follow. They found Congo lying in the bush,
his sleeve ripped but his flesh untouched. He got up, big, white-eyed,
The news of the boa's being in the vicinity spread as fast as legs
could carry it. Old people, by memory of their grandparents' words
named him "de devil's companion." Children and pigs were put
behind doors. When Blanche heard of it she hurried to Fehce in great
"Sister girl, ya see a snake?" she asked breatlilessly.
Brother Good, Brother Bad
"Eh-eh, wat ah want wid a snake?*'
Blanche flopped down and sighed in relief for, if a woman with
child is frightened by a snake, her child would have the eyes of one
sure. She set to fanning herself and announced that she was not going
to leave the house until the child came.
"Aw Gawd, wat ah do wid a snake? Me ain't fraid dem. Snake.
Snake. Where ya git dis snake-talk from?"
Blanche, who couldn't abide the sight of an earthworm, poured
out the story of Congo's near escape, relishing the paleness of her
sister's face. FeHce had to sit down; she listened intentiy. But before
Blanche had finished elaborating the details Felice jumped up and
shushed her. She laughed at "all de old rot stuff" that Blanche was
weaving in; she knew where it would end, on Garnet's curse.
This seemed decidedly unsisterly to Blanche. "Ya better watch out,
ya playin' ya brave. Ah sure dat snake Garnet and so you."
"Old-talk nonsense," Felice said in a weary voice.
"Oh Lawd, ah sure it comin' here. Lock de door quick-quick,"
Blanche moaned. She popped up and headed for the flimsy door.
"Leave ma door open so fresh air could come in and don't be
foolish, girl. 'Cause de snake try to bite Congo, is Garnet?"
Blanche hung at the door, her nose lifted a notch too high. She
turned with a snort and walked out.
Felice went to the door and called after her, "Ya vexed?"
Blanche stopped for a moment, casting hurt looks. "Trow me out,
it's ahight. Trow me outl Ya go find out, ya and ya brave self!"
Blanche went off in a bum and Felice returned to sit wearily. She
went over names, hunting one possible for her child; first the girl's,
then quickly the boy's. But it was no good; among the names she
would always stimible over Celeste or Garnet. She sat for a long
time as quiet as sleep. Suddenly she rose and went to her teabox to
count her money.
A dollar, two shillings, and three pennies. She folded the coins in
the note and, digging in her bosom, she extracted a safety pin. Then,
spearing the loose ends of the note, she pinned the little package in-
side her blouse and, sitting again, she waited for Congo's return.
When he came, pretending an all-inclusive lack of concern for the
snake's attack, she laid his supper quietly and smiled at him when-
ever he looked at her. Through the evening they spoke little and
kept up their smiles. Only at one point was there danger; Congo
touched her stomach with his hand and when he looked up at her his
smile wrenched and threatened to twist into a look of fear. She
turned away and moved to her sewing. They looked at each other
no more and their words were halt and timid.
When in the morning Congo had left for work Felice put on the
loose white dress she wore only to church; she set a broad hat of
blue on her head and went into the street, passing tlirough tlie village
and along the asphalt road that led north.
At a collection of small thatched houses she turned into a muddy
lane, passing gravely through the play of screaming children, and
traveled into a wood of wild growth. She held to the lane as it disin-
tegrated to a path and then a trail. The earth under her feet was
hard, well traveled. Through the trees festooned with the spikes of
wild orchids she caught sight of the great house, white as soap water.
At the gate an ancient little man pruned a hedge; he bowed and
smiled at her. She passed him, up the graveled walk. Behind her
she heard the tinkle of a bell and she slowed her gait as she ap-
proached the bright green door of the house.
"Ou . . . ou-u-u . . ." The sound of greeting came from the side
of the house and she turned to it. Ma Ojoe appeared, dipping her
head under the low branches of a pnmed lemon tree. She was a
huge woman, not fat, but large-boned and black, dark; her move-
ments were dainty as if she were smaller and birdlike. When she
came bowing and smiling peckishly Felice saw that her eyes were
gray. They bowed to each other formally as people had done a gen-
Ma Ojoe led Felice through the green door into bright rooms where
delicate wdcker furniture of fantastic intricacy sat neat and frivolous.
In a room where flowers hung heavy in sconces, spreading in vases
and pots, pale or deep but all yellow, the old woman stopped. She
turned her weatliered face to Fehce and smiled.
Brother Good, Brother Bad
"Ah got someting . . /' Felice began.
"Wait girl, ya come and eatl We can old-talk much betten den/*
Ma Ojoe said, and she led Felice to a long table where they selected
from a line of dishes, warm as if waitin for me, Felice thought.
"Mix-up" rice with beef, curried goat, pounded plantain, cou-cou okra
and com meal, boiled yam, dasheen root and cassava, chicken stew
and roasted breadfruit lay in covered bowls or domed platters. On
trays and pedestal plates marble cake, molasses and coconut tullum
candy, preserved tam-brand fruit and two-year-old fruitcake waited
for the dessert round. A servant in starched white entered and laid a
tray of lemonade and a flask of rum. Felice watched her closely but
the servant never looked up; she did her task and went out.
Over the years Felice had heard of the ways of Ma Ojoe, her
laden table, her servants, her wealth. She had a piece of land here,
one there, some cacao trees over the mountain, some sugar fields, a
bit of this, all of that. Felice took small helpings, afraid that she did
not have the cost of a visit.
"Ah ain't have much money— only small change," she said timidly.
"Ya keep wat ya have, come on, tear some food." The old woman
smiled in encouragement and helped her to a big piece of pork,
loading on plantain and cou-cou.
Dem like to say dot first hut hit ya for everyting ya have after,
They sat at a small table and Ma Ojoe attacked her food lustily.
At one point the old woman chuckled over her private thoughts.
Felice noted it. She ate slowly, fearful of her manners while seeing
that Ma Ojoe bothered with none.
Several times she heard the tinkle of the bell outside and she
felt better, less alone with this woman. There were others. She had
had the notion that no one came to Ma Ojoe any more; people usu-
ally scoffed when they mentioned her name. Obeah woman, tea
reader, card cutter, they called her. Some even said that her gray
eyes could not see now and it seemed that most people doubted if
they ever could.
When the food and dessert were finished Ma Ojoe plucked a
coconut stem from a drawer and picked her teeth. She washed her
mouth noisily with great moutlifuls of lemonade hberaUy spiked
with rum and sat back.
"Wat ya wanta tell me?" she asked.
Felic6 told the whole story from the beginning, long before her
At one time two brothers came to the town, Congo Bara and Gar-
net, the younger and the elder. Congo had gone to work immedi-
ately on the cacao plantation, though he was only fifteen; Garnet
wandered from trade to trade and Hved a faster life. When she was
younger the figure of Garnet seemed more romantic than any other;
he was a man from the great world outside who had been to the
capital, Port-of-Spain. He drank big and danced up a storm; he
turned all the girls' eyes.
One gay night at a fete he had danced with her six times; he
walked her into the nights air, commented on the moon, spoke
nice things. He took her home, going no further as they paused along
the way than a gentleman would, and she went dizzy with thinking
on her luck. She said her love and went in.
But a week later she was dancing with Congo. She had had the
brashness to tell a group of girls that she was intended to Garnet
and they had howled with laughter. Olive Twitchell had taken her
aside and asked her if she didn't know where Garnet spent his nights
sleeping. "At Mama Celeste's and he got no separate bedl"
When Garnet next appeared she flung the gossip's tale in his face
and he hung his head and turned away.
Slowly she got over her hurt and Congo shyly attended her, al-
ways kind, until at last she saw him and all liis gentleness. She sat
right down and cried in relief.
"But what ya want to know from me?" Ma Ojoe asked.
Felice recounted the events of her wedding day, the curse and
the baby's coflin. The old woman frowned.
"He a nasty man to do dat." She sucked her teeth in disapproval.
Ma Ojoe got up and went poking among tlie yellow flowers, push-
Brother Good, Brother Bad . .
ing them down, nipping off dead leaves. Felice watched her until
she wondered if the old woman had forgotten her.
"Ah can't stay too long . . /' she said.
Ma Ojoe held up a hand for silence and, at length, she sat down,
looking out hard past FeHce.
*What you seeinF' Felice asked.
"Don t worry bout dis Celeste woman and all she tricks, she ain't
know how to help ya or harm ya. She ain t have no power to make
no ting work. Ah is de only one roimd who know anyting bout des
She rose and drew a deep breath as if tired out. "As to Garnet,
he playin' he bad but ah could work someting on he." She winked
a gray eye.
Perhaps FeHce expected a thunderclap or a sudden puff of smoke;
she felt disappointed. It was all too simple and colored by profes-
sional jealousy, no doubt.
Ma Ojoe looked dovm at Felice calmly with her gray eyes. "Ah
see no curse comin' from dem amateurs." She smiled wanly and
Felice fumbled with her bag, preparing to leave.
"Wat ya want for dis?"
"Ah see ya hard up and ah does get good money— elseways." Ma
Ojoe smiled and bowed. Felice returned the gesture and made for
Oh Gawd, ah wastin ma time wid dis foolish faker. Happy rid-
dance to bad rubbish! she thought as she went through the rooms
to the front door, where she passed a young woman in a fine dress
The wrinkled old man still pruned the hedges; he turned and
bowed, smiling. "Wat a dotish old ting," she grumbled under her
The trip back was wearing, the sun hot. The child within her
kicked and moved, tired with her tiredness. She walked, then rested,
then walked again. Constantly her mind went over the problem. Is
de curse real wid a power or just Garnet meanness?
She reached her house in midaftemoon, shuMng in the gate;
everything blurred from the fatigue. "Oh Lawd,*' she moaned as she
sank on the bed, and, quick as death, she slept.
She woke at one point and pulled herself up; it took all her
strength, as if the weight she carried were rock. There was a scut-
tling under the house. "Damn dogs," she sighed, and sank back to
When she was shaken she woke badly, aching from hard sleep.
"Oh Congo, ah feeUn bad."
"Felic4 ah come to take ya way."
She rushed out of her stupor at the sound of the voice. Garnet
stood before her; he smiled down sweetly, sadly. In his rags he looked
like a carnival-time beggar waiting for a coin.
"Ah can't wait longer. Come go up to de hill, ah have a place up
Felice sat looking as calm as May, a look of calm that only fear
can make. Her hands moved over her stomach and its child pro-
tectively and to Garnet it seemed a sign.
'When it bom we go send it back to it fadder and we go make
one we own," he said.
He came kneeling beside her, saying his love, telling his foolish-
ness, promising never to see the Obeah woman again if she would
come, if she would only come.
"Ma heart hurtin' for des years. Ah know ya love me for all de
time. Ya comin wid me? Now, fore Congo come back?"
Felic6 did not move, she strained to hear a sound of someone
passing in the street, some help, but there were only the dogs scut-
tling under the house. Garnet raised himself and stretched out his
hands to help her up.
She screamed and fell back, rolling herself into a protective ball
and holding her screams up high, loud and sharp. Garnet stood over
her looking stupidly surprised and moved as if to nm away. But,
turning back to her, he let out a cry of mourning for his withering
love and struck with his fist.
In the still moment of fear, under its power, she did not feel
Garnet's blow. Shouts and caUs, approacliing feet nmning, she heard
Brother Good, Brother Bad
Garnet go out the back window, his feet running, and his lament of
curses; the dogs scuttled fiercely under the floor. She rose and, stag-
gering to catch the spinning room, her balance went awry and she
sHd to the floor. Pain pressed on her for notice and she thought,
Oh Gawd, Garnet cuss workin!
People filled the room, Blanche in the forefront. She let out screams
that brought people from the farthest part of the village and she
broke to crying, "Oh loss I Garnet cuss come. Garnet cuss come down
Olive Twitchell came bustling into the aheady-crowded room,
ramming through a path with her big body. She clapped a hand over
Blanche's mouth and, holding her, she set about directing the women
who hfted Fehce to her bed. She sent a child running for Miss Ruthie,
the midwife, and led a strugghng Blanche to a chair where she re-
leased her with a warning, "Shut up, girl, shut up you mouth or ah
Blanche, blue with want of air, sat limply obedient.
Immediately Olive turned to the crowd. "Wat all ya looking at?
All ya go make me sick. Gol Go from here! Move!"
They retreated before her and the house was empty except for
a few clear heads when old Miss Ruthie arrived. Pots and kettles
had been set to boiling and Miss Ruthie, satisfied with the prepara-
tions, rubbed her thin hands together and worked her sunken mouth
as if she were before a feast, then she set upon the twisting Fehc6.
"He cuss hit me, he cuss hit me," FeHc6 moaned, and Blanche
leaped up to let out again a scream and a cry. Olive flew at her and
without a hint of dehcacy wrestled her out of the house into the back
yard to the eyes of the village quickly assembhng tliere. Blanche
threw herself on the grass screaming over their whispers and casting
hard looks at Olive, who rushed back in.
Several men rushed to Blanche, fumbling with the corks of their
bottle. She grabbed the nearest one and popped it open expertly.
Upending it, she let a good quantity drain down and squirmed
against its burning. Then promptly she bent down her head and
wept as old man Glasco hovered over her looking a helpless man
against women's tears.
Congo arrived from his work running; the news of Felice's labor
had met him on the way. Olive barred him from his door and Blanche
set upon him, telling him Felice's words of Garnet's curse. She sent
children flying from a bench and shoved Congo down on it; as he
stared she poured borrowed rum down his throat and fanned him
with her apron.
"Oh Gawd, oh Gawd . . ." he muttered, and set to staring away
at a pile of sweepings as if he saw all the world and its mysteries
there. Blanche took his machete from his hand and hung it by the
porch on its hook, then she went back to sit beside him and stare too.
Drums were brought and they set up a rhythm to pace the labor
of the mother inside. Mama Orisee, in the last month herself with
the seventh child, feared to stay with the rhythm. But the old woman
tied a rope below her stomach so the child would know not to come
early and she could stay out the event.
Most of an hour had passed when Olive came out of the house
and motioned to Blanche to bring Congo in. She got the dumb-struck
husband to his feet with her trembling hands. Her flesh crawled as
she led him to the house and her ready shouts and screams stuck in
her throat; only her gasps for air rumbled in her nose.
The villagers shook their heads; it was a bad sign, no cry of birth
and the husband going in. Their faces got longer when old man
Glasco was ushered in by a very solemn Olive. A child came whis-
pering that Father Richards had quietly slipped in tlie front door
and hope crumbled.
The sun fell in their silence; they set up their flambeau torches,
kerosene in rum bottles with rag wicks; women drifted awav and
back bringing food to the men and children who sat rooted to the
spot. Tliey munched in silence, straining an ear; the house echoed
into itself the hard praying that went on there, but only a wordless
mumble came out to the villagers.
Later, to their surprise, they heard the bawl of the child; thev
rustled and, smiHng, they began to wiggle out of their feais. Bottles
Brotlier Good, Brother Bad . . .
were passed freely and tliey began confessing to one another their
"Whew! Dat girl a weakey, she no loadtoter . . .*'
"Wid all de trouble, he lungs good anyway."
"All de time ah tink Garnet could put down a cuss."
Old man Glasco came out of the door and limply hung there.
"She have a boy child. She . . . ain't feelin' too good." The men
rushed to support him as he turned liis head to hide a tear. They
led him to a seat where he settied in stony stillness.
The crowd was startled to see a child, not one of theirs, in a
shabby htde black suit come walking through the yard and enter
the house before they had time to reaHze and stop him.
Inside, quiet in his bare feet, he moved behind the backs of the
people who knelt around the bed, while outside tlie villagers were
waiting to see him fly out on the end of OHve's broom. Hands folded
behind his back, he studied the hard-breathing mother and then
went to the parlor and the cradle where Olive fussed. He inspected
the child over her shoulder with a serious litde eye and, returning
to the bedroom, he stood watching FeHce's struggle as solemnly as
But Olive discovered him and she moved near to hiss, "Wat ya
doin' here? Move boy, move boy, you ain't have a home?"
Calmly he turned to look at her as if she were a pesky gnat and
as calmly he walked to the front door and left while the crowd in
the back yard waited in vain.
Card players, the near-drunk, the praying, and the half-asleep
came to their feet, startled to see Congo come rushing out, slap of
screen door, from the house. He ran through the crowd without a
word, shaking off their comforting hands, and on the run he made
for the dark trees of the forest. Some of the men came after him,
calling for him to return, but he entered the forest and, once out
of the light of the thin moon, they did not try to follow.
Using memory, Congo moved in the darkness across the wild outer
growth of the plantation, over tlie cacao lanes, to mule tracks tliat
led him to higher land. At the far side of the estate where the land
rose sharply into the mountain he passed again into the trees and ar-
rived shortly at the black rock, the devil's resting place.
Fearing for his soul to kneel to evil, he decided only to bow. "Papa
Devil, beg pardon. Ah didn't mean to be so fast sittin' down de day
on you trone. Don't ya hut my family— if ya have to hut, hut me."
And, pardon asked, he turned and set out fast for the forest's edge
and home. Without the courage of purpose in him he was constantly
seeing spirits and evil creatures in every shadow— or were they just
shadows? He ran with his questions, not breaking his speed or looking
overlong. In the utter stillness of a forest at night, where a falling
sounds like a sure calamity, he heard rustles, the rasp of leaves, and
water gurgling deep in the trees.
When at the forest edge he passed out on the grass he slumped
down to catch his breath and sight his position. In the light of the
feeble moon he saw the edge of the village and, farther, the faint
glow of torches warming the gray night. When his breathing calmed
he rose and moved along the forest toward his house.
Fiercely a rope cut into his tlii'oat, a knee struck him in the back,
and he fell on the grass, tearing at the strangling rope. His mind
swam and Garnet's voice came over him, setting its chill on his ears.
"Thief, thief, ah go kill ya, brother or no brother, ah go kill ya! Ya
go take, all ya go take from me. When ya born va kill Mama, useta
git all ma food, ah grow up starvin'. You bad talk wid people so ah
lost ma Felice. Now ah go git ya for good and take vou wife and
trow you child in de streetl" and he laughed with all his body as
he pulled the rope tighter into Congo's tlnoat.
The pale darkness in Congo's eyes slid to purple blackness as he
struggled and he heard, strangely faint yet clear, Garnet's laughter
rise up into a scream. The rope slackened and weaklv he crawled
away, fumbling with the rope and sucking in air. He got to his feet
amid Garnet's screams and there in the night on the moonlit grass
he saw the coils of the great snake and Garnet's frantic arms Hagging
black on the dark grass.
Brother Good, Brother Bad . . .
He ran with the strength of fear and met the onrush of torches
and villagers. "Machetes! De snake! De snake!"
Without a pause he ran to his house and, silent in the rush of
women's questions, he unhooked his knife and ran back across the
grass. Men joined him as he ran and in a shouting band they con-
verged on the snake. It rose up against the night's sky, its head higher
than a man's; their howling faltered and their feet slowed to a stop.
They stood with their machetes poised and in the light of their
torches the great snake uncoiled and withdrew, leaving the dark
twist of Garnet behind. They watched openmouthed as it moved
into the trees, then Congo quickly went to kneel by his brother.
Under his hand the dark form quivered, it moaned crookedly, and
life went from it as a sudden quiet came. A man leaned over with
his torch. "Is Garnet! Oh Gawd, evil catch bad . . ."
And gingerly the men helped Congo lift the body. They traveled
with it in silence. Fast legs took the news ahead of the bearers to
the house and when the little band came to the yard the whole
village was on its feet gaping to see, chilled by the knowledge that
such sudden death was as near as two minutes' walk and the trees.
Blanche barred Congo's path to his door. "Wat ya do, man? Ya
go mix death and birth together?" She pointed to the low roof of
the chicken house. "Trow he dey!"
Congo frowned but obeyed and Garnet's body was put down on
the rough shingles. He stood quietly for a moment looking as if he
would break and cry, then he turned and went to the house.
Blanche waited for him on the porch. "Why ya run way before
so fast, eh?"
Congo did not answer but went to the door. Before he could
get inside his best friend, Mr. Timothy, called him. "Congo— wat
ya go do wid he?"
"He ma brother, man! I go have ta bury he . . ."
Congo went in to see how his Felice was doing. She opened her
eyes at his touch and smiled. He waited until her gentle, weary eyes
closed with sleep, then he went out and ordered the funeral prepa-
rations for Garnet from the professionally sad-faced merchants who
Stood expectantly in a neat group and bowed, just perceptively, en
Mr. Ram Lai Singh, the tailor, went off to his shop for the purple
burying pajamas. The undertaker, Mr. Pollock, of considerable
weight, preferred to send his boys on the run for the cofBn, cheese
and crackers, beer and coffee were ordered for the wake. And though
the crowd was pleased to eat some cheese and drink another man's
beer they could not see the reason for such a foolish throwing of
money on evil. The merchants, sensing that the wind might change,
delivered the goods in quick order and got the money safe in the
bottoms of their deep pockets.
The drums that earlier set up the rhythm for bearing now thumped
the beat of the dead. Blanche came shouting that it was a danger
to Felice; Olive backed her up.
"Oh loss!" Congo cried. "He ma own bloodi Wlio else go bury he?"
"Trow he way, let he rot, old stinker I" Blanche shouted. "If she
hear de drum she go know. Why ya treatin' she so, man?"
Miss Ruthie came shushing and gleaning from their argument the
problem; she sized up Blanche with a hard eye. "If it silence wat ya
want, move de wake over to all you house. Ah ain't worrin' bout
Without Miss Ruthie to support her case Blanche flounced away
to the house in defeat and Congo went to sit with the dead. On
the roof of the chicken house the black wood coffin rested; a torch
lit the body in its purple pajamas.
"No one to wash he, no one go cry for he . . ." Congo sighed.
The squawk of chickens beneath and the laughter of card plavers
and storytellers behind seemed indecent, though the latter two were
to be found at every wake. "How ya live make dis end," Congo
thought, and he reviewed the patiis they had traveled to tliis night.
"Where he? Where he? Oh Gawd, me right hand gone! Oh
Gawd ... 1"
Mama Celeste flew into the yard screeching and flinging herself
through the crowd. Her arms, solid with bracelets holding all the
Brother Good, Brother Bad . . .
gold she had, were spread clutching in the torchlight; her green
satin dress caught that torchlight as she twisted and it rippled and
flashed green fire before the villagers' eyes.
"Me man! Oh Gawd oh Gawd, what all ya do to he? Ya sons ah
big bitches!" she screamed, and she ran for the coffin. Congo was
up to catch her and pull her away. But her teeth tore at his arms;
she spat rapidly and what a noise! Breaking away, she turned on
the villagers; they smiled in their fear of her and shrank back, know-
ing that the curse of the Obeah woman was sure to come.
"All ya say bad bout he! But oh Gawd, he ma man! He sweet . . .
to me . . ." she cried, and turning back to the coffin, she wailed
her grief and hung limply over the body.
Congo approached and laid a hand gently on her wagging head.
She started up and, tearing off her white turban, she threw it in
"Wey he clothes? Wey he clothes?!"
She tore at the purple pajamas and began puUing Garnet's rigid
body from the coffin.
"Ah go take he! All ya don't know he ma man? When he go down-
he go down in white silk!! He go have a stone of de Virgin over he
head. Yes, Mary!"
Congo handed her her turban and she knocked it away.
"Take he," Congo said.
And, weeping, she began to lift out the body.
"Ah go carry it for you, maself," Congo sighed.
She let Garnet back carefully and gave in loudly to her grief.
Congo shut down the lid and, stooping, he began to slide the
coffin on his back. The men came forward to help set the load on
his back, but not one offered to help him carry it to that dark house
on the hill where Mama Celeste lived.
Going before, glistening wet with tears, teeth clenched, head
straight, she led Congo with his burden from the yard. The women
eyed her jeweled hands and crossed themselves. Some felt that she
was indeed noble, to bear the loss of her man and not curse tliem
all. There were a few with pity for her; evil paid its share but a httle
pity had no cost.
The villagers finished up the crackers and nibbled the last of the
cheese; boys snatched the last bottles of beer and ran. Slowly the
rest drifted off to their beds and wondered with a longing for to-
morrow what tale Congo would tell of his journey this night, if ever
he came down the hill again.
About four in the dark of the morning Congo come on his toes
into his quiet house. The sadness of Mama Celeste's shambles-house
full of draped bird cages and rickety furniture had been a weight to
bear. She had shown him closets of fine clothes that she had bought
for Garnet and whimpered that she had never allowed him to wear
them for fear other, younger women would set upon him with smiling
eyes. And happily he came home to his Felice and his new son. All
the way he had felt safe, so powerless the Celeste woman was, and
he thought on his child, keeping the image of the one short look he
had had before his eyes. A purply thing, not much to show, but he
banked on the way a baby takes to changing by the hour. He would
be beautiful in the morning. Felice would wake to sunshine and smile;
his faith in Miss Ruthie's ability was complete; hadn't she delivered
a set of three with no loss all around?
And so, his weight creaking the boards of the floor, he went to
where Blanche sprawled in snoring sleep on a pallet over the floor;
beside her the cradle sat.
Where he? Congo thought; the cradle was empty. He felt around
in it to make sure and he went hurriedly to the bedroom, peeking
in at Felice curled in sleep. Miss Ruthie was lying asleep in the bed
with her. A closer inspection showed no child nursing or tucked awav.
He went back and roused Blanche; she sat up blinking and moaning
"Where ma child?" Congo asked.
"Wat? He dere— in bed," she growled, and flopped down again.
"He ain't inside devl Where he?"
She pulled herself up again, screwing up her lips and staring into
Brother Good, Brother Bad
his eye like he was a crazy man. Then she crawled over to see for
herself. And, full awake, she came with a gasp to turn wide eyes
fearfully at Congo.
"Is he wid he mother?"
"Oh Gawd, is me who is de fool!" Congo cried.
Miss Ruthie came tottering with sleep. "Shush, shush, de girl have
to have she sleep."
"Ah go kill she, Mama Celeste— if de last ting ah do!" and he ran in-
to the night calling at their porches, over their fences, those who
would support him in an assault on the dark house. They came stum-
bling from their houses in the dark and the village woke, setting itself
for another round of sweet fright. Flambeau torches were lit and Con-
go assembled the men, armed with their machetes and goulets, in
the main street.
Most of a half hour had passed. Children hung on porch posts or
ran naked to see the preparations to war with the evil spirits in that
house that every one of them had seen— but only from afar on daring
journeys to the wooded slope that rose nearby. They all half wanted
to go along to see the golden interior of the house and the black
Cottonwood throne where the devil sat.
In the blackness of the night made bright with the flames of jig-
gling flambeaux, loud with shouts and prayers sent up by the quaver-
ing voices of women, the children pranced about in their delight.
A whoop went up and a cry of awe; the men moved in a body
toward the hill, Congo going before. Blanche and Olive, the only
women who dared go, nestled in the center of the band.
They traveled on light, tense feet beyond the cries and shouts of
the village and where the fast mountain stream was bridged they
saw ahead in the light of their torches a boy come running, dressed
as if for Sunday.
He called, "Mister Congo! Mister Congo!" and stopped some ten
feet away. "Ah see dem wid you child."
"Where ya see dem tings?" Congo asked suspiciously.
"Ah see dem runnin' bout de woods wid you child."
Congo eyed the boy, done up in a Httle black suit, shabby and
worn but fancy nonetheless. He slyly set about his questions asking
the child where he belonged.
"Nowey, Mister Congo."
"Ya ain't have nobody?"
"Eh-eh, ah ain't have none."
Congo moved toward him and the child hopped away toward
the trees. Blanche and Olive had pushed forward and Congo con-
sulted with them. Olive pointed out that it was possible the boy
could have recognized the baby, having seen it earlier when she
shooed him from the house.
"Ah go find you child, ah know where de dwenns go take he," the
"Ya wait a minute, eh?" Congo called back, and he consulted again
with the women. He pointed out that the boy could be a ruse of Mama
Celeste's or he could be only a wandering orphan child. Blanche
was undecided. Olive took up the position that it would be like
Mama Celeste to get baby spirits to help her. The dwenns would be
only too glad to snatch an unbaptized child and starve it dead so
they could add to their number. And what could be so sad as the
spirit of an unbaptized baby who when the sun came up didn't have
even an unquiet grave to which he could go.
"Mister, ya ain't hear dem babies cryin' and makin' noise all dis
night?" the boy called.
"Ya know only all ya children could see and hear des dwenns,"
Congo called back, for only children have a veil of innocence, a
lack of doubt, that let them see or hear the baby spirits.
"Ah gonna ask ya for a big reward when ah git de child ... if all
ya don't come wid me."
"Ya ain't lyin', boy?"
The boy passed into the dark of the trees and his \'oice came
out with a tinge of amusement. "Ya ain't go know if ah Ivin' or tell in'
de trut. Ya have to take de chance."
Congo gave the women one look; they offered only blank frowns.
Brother Good, Brother Bad .
"Come on," Congo ordered his men; Mama Celeste could wait.
They entered the trees to follow the boy. Some were sure that Congo
was playing the fool and they were all disappointed, for they had
been looking forward to seeing the rich house of Mama Celeste.
But they followed, setting their minds to the new problem and the
new spirits they sought; only baby spirit, they thought sullenly.
The boy set a fast pace for his elders, keeping well out in front
of them, always a litde ahead. Congo noted it.
"Hey boy, wat you name is?" he asked breathlessly.
"Ya all call me Winston," the child shouted, and kept up his gruel-
ing pace. Silent of mouth but jangling and snorting and clumping
their feet, they traveled in a line up the paths of the forest. On their
way birds cried out of sleep, fluttering up in the dark foliage. They
saw the signals of fireflies and kept their weapons ready should the
great snake or one of his children appear.
Congo was wondering how this child could set the paths so surely
with only the darkness of forest before him and he called to the
boy, "Ya don't need a flambeau to see?"
"No. Ah ain't need noting."
"Why ya ain't holdin' back wid us? Ya fraid us or someting?"
"Ah don't like all ya big-bodied men, ya tink all ya could beat
The words had cost Congo much breath, but the boy did not slow
his feet. He ran them wildly over the cacao estate and farther.
At the crest of the hill Winston called a halt; he waited until the
stretched-out line had pulled into a group again. "All ya listen hard!"
Congo ordered his men to an absolute, just-breathing stillness and
they carefully listened to the sounds of the night. Over on the next
hill a bellbird rang his call, a thin shudder of wind was in the trees,
down in the narrow valley they heard a set of gurglings and they
all questioned if it were not only a stream falling. But out of the
sound they heard a single cry, the wa-waing cadence sure to be a
"Dat you baby," Winston announced, and he leaped down the
path. In a clattering of steel knives and awed whispers they followed,
moving in decision at their best speed. Congo began breathlessly
chanting a hymn of his childhood. " 'Sweet Jesus is comin* . . / " The
rest joined in, singing out as if the words were shot and arrow
attacking the spirits that fled before them.
They moved into the valley where the heavy forest was damp with
the mists from the stream. Over a rickety rope bridge spanning a
ravine where the stream rushed they scrambled one by one, massing
at the other side. Winston had gone before, up the dark path and,
shouting and singing, they followed. Up what must have been a goat
path twisting among the trees they moved, passing a large pool of
water and, farther, another. In the last of the darkness, just starting
to pale with morning, they saw white water plunging. They climbed
above it, their progress slowed, but they moved steadily until Congo
stopped and shouted for Winston.
His voice came from far up, down to them. "Up herel"
And when they reached a deep step in the hill it was the first
gray Hght of day. Their torches came upon Winston and on the earth
beside him lay a wiggHng bundle. Winston retreated when Congo
came near and Blanche puffed up with enough breath to give a
She fell on her knees, then Congo and she inspected the blankets
carefully for identification.
*'He tink it's a dwenn and not he own," Mr. Timothy laughed.
But the decision didn't take long.
"Oh Gawd, he mine, he minel He lookin' good," Congo smiled
up to them, and a tense everybody let go and sent up a whoop of
rejoicing. They hugged each other up and they all smiled a shy hero's
In the melee Congo maneuvered up and around and down so that
he could get his hands on Winston and he hugged him hard to Hfting
him off the ground. Winston froze and was dropped like a stone
from Congo's hands. They stumbled back from each other.
"Dis boy feelin' like ice— ain't natural . . ."
Brother Good, Brother Bad . . .
The happy crowd hushed and saw Congo pale and Winston with-
draw into the trees.
"WaitI" Congo cried.
With frowns they watched him bow to the boy.
"Winston— Papa Devil, why ya do all this good for me? Ya know
ah's a Christian who does kneel at de foot of de Christ child."
Winston smiled sadly and afterward they all swore they saw a
tear in his eye. "Ah don't hke nobody thief ma orange perfume and
go try to put on ma shoes."
And whether he moved too fast or just disappeared they did not
know. Where he had been there was only the space between two
Much awe was sounded; much crossing of breasts was done.
Everyone was dead set on leaving this place in a hurry and they
spent little time finding solid footing down the path. But Congo
drifted behind; his eyes were red and dry and he wore a silly grin
of happiness for his little son who slept in his arms.
The party passed down the hill and by the pool they paused in
the first blue sky of day to look into bluer depths to see as through
crystal the red stones on the bottom of the pool. All had heard of
but few had seen the Blue Basin, as it was called. From high rocks
above, as if appearing from the overhanging trees, a fall of water
slid over and fell in a narrow ribbon to ruffle the pool below. And
when Congo came upon them he looked too.
"Ah go baptize hel Quick, maself!" he announced.
"You go wait and let Father Richards do it in churchi" Blanche
"Ah ain't takin' ma child tru no woods, no time, wid des dwenns
bout de place. Ah ain't waitin' for no Father Richardsl Ah seed him
do it two, three times— ah could do it maself."
Blanche weighed and considered, then decided, setting the people
in a fine for the ceremony.
Congo stood stiffly, formally. "Ah want no one else but Blanche
to be he godmother and Mr. Timothy, ah can tink of no better god-
father for ma child as you."
They bowed their assent and, passing the child to Blanche, Congo
went with Mr. Timothy to the other end of the line that curved
along the edge of the pool. He stepped into the chill water and began
to sing, "Tut on he lily-white robe, put on he lily-wliite robe . . .
and he'll be a son of Jesus.' "
Blanche raised the child up toward the sky in ofiFering and then
passed it down, from hand to hand, to Mr. Timothy, who handed
him down to Congo. Drawing a handful of water, Congo sprinkled
the child. "Ah chisten dee, Congo Elias Everett Bara, de second
straight . . . Now let we go back to you mother, eh?"
Prayers went up, past the haze that lay over the Blue Basin, into
the trees above. The men mumbled solemnly; the two women were
more public. Had one of them that veil of innocence that every
child wears he could have heard around, over and up above the
wail of graveless, unbaptized babies weeping in the dark of the trees.
Witches . .
When the ancient silver bus, graced with blue and yellow fenders-
three only— opened its doors, its passengers poured out fast, glad to
be done with the smells of perspiration, fish, and cheap rum that
had ridden with them all the way from Arima. The crowd was a
brightly colored one, if not the prettiest. Before the bus was com-
pletely emptied another pulled up with a screech and a spraying
of sand. Its occupants showed the same haste to leave it and the two
groups shouted and laughed as they mingled together. They dragged
baskets of food, large kerosene tins of spiced meat or fish, steel drums,
and each other onto the pure white sands of Manzanilla beach.
Spreading like wild ants, tliey settled among the palm trees that
fringed the long sweep of sand.
It was Sunday, rest day, and this once-quiet beach had been cho-
Witches . .
sen by the "spoates" for their brief holiday. "Spoates" was the girls*
name, their self-imposed title; they dealt in services not likely to be
recognized by the Crown. Mudder Mary, their leader and owner of
their place of business, came down the beach with a dowager's grace;
her ample kimono of washed-out purple fluttered dehcately in the
breeze. She selected the place where the food would be least likely
attacked by ants and then settled farther down the beach with her
thoughts, most likely constiucting new tales of calamity and woe
that could induce more money from her girls. Mudder Mary, per-
petually hard up for small change, ignored her large bank deposit in
a passion to raise the cost of the wastrel's life.
Miss Ivy Bendel, her oldest girl and unofficially the leader of the
group, in navy-blue pin-stripe trousers and a briUiant Japanese print
shirt, sallied into the chaos of shouts and singing to organize the
music. Under her hard eye and expert swearing the men— aheady
most were drunk— took up their steel drums and beat out a fac-
simile of the latest calypsoes. She bulhed them until they were play-
ing almost nimbly their odd instruments, the bottoms of oil drums
blov^^orch-fired and beaten until they had shapes that when struck
rapidly by a baton gave off notes and a quivering rhythm. These
were the steel drums, the "pans." Miss Ivy's loud soprano set the
pace and the song.
She danced too, alone; her trousers, a souvenir of some fellow
who remembered too late that he was broke, was at least one size
too small. The bottle of rum, forced in the back pocket, didn't help;
it moved up to heaven, down to hell, over and over, as she ground
her hips to a calypso.
Skinny Olga, in order to show off her two-piece bathing suit, joined
her. This poor child, so black till she was purple, looked like all
pluperfect sin in shocking pink. It was a marvel to all that she made
a cent, but her success was due to sheer nervous energy and, accord-
ing to the rest of the "spoates", she had never slept a whole night
alone since she was twelve.
Unkind remarks, which Olga had long been hardened to, were pro-
vided by fat Ohve, whose polka-dot swim suit pulled in emerald
ovals at all the wrong places. She lay with a cluster of girls, all
twisting and fidgeting to show off their latest beach creations to best
advantage for the eyes of other girls' men.
Darlin David was expectedly drunk; Jacob sang as if he had a
voice and wasn't along just because he could pay plenty. Scattered
among this band of noisy angels were others of Darlin David's kind,
the whorepets. And standing out clean in that crowd or any other
was Theopolos, better known as Tio. He was very young and hand-
some. Though he had not worked for four solid years he still held
onto the massive stevedore's body that had gotten him to easy money
and made him the "spoates' " favorite. His eyes were almond-shaped
and green, skin a wann not-too-dark brown, hair not too kinky, not
too wavy and soft. He had a loud mouth and was most usually under
the affectionate care of Miss Ivy. But, hanging around a house of
tired girls for energetic men, he was always tempted to slip around
Gladys Singh and Cyntia Chang, an unholy sight in emerald and
orange, in that order, pulled Tio from his bottle and towel out on
the sand for a dance. He followed, being incapable of not lapping
up all and any attention. Miss Ivy kept grinding away, all alone,
giving the girls a what's-all-this-vulgarity look. But they paid her no
mind. They hung on Tio's round anns smiling and whispering in
either ear all the insinuation they could.
Eyes heavenward. Miss Ivy said, "Somebody go find hisself widout
meat dis day, somebody, ah tell yal"
Now this was a threat to Tio. Miss Ivy's pig-foot souse, not to
mention her bull jowl, was to him a good part heaven. She seasoned
it to a miraculous burn of peppers, all man-hot. Tio had coward for
a middle name; the threat had its effect. He sidled up to her and
those who still could see saw that Miss Ivy had won again.
And while those eyes were holding on her she gvrated slowly
about, eyes still heavenward, and showed Tio the breadth of her
bottom with the bottle dancing in her hip pocket. Leaning slightly
forward, protruding behind, she emphasized her message, tlien un-
dulated away, looking her sourest.
Witches . . .
Tio snorted his hurt pride and with a vengeance went back to
titillate Gladys; a man has to eat.
The party continued with a steady descent of clarity. Olga donned
a broad beach hat to frame her skinny face and minced down to
the water. She rushed back shortly, the ruin of a sudden wave; hair
"gone in de wind," straight out, and hatless. Unfortunately there
wasn't a head clear enough to sympathize with her; she bawled and
coughed alone over her rum bottle.
Such pleasures as drunken musicians, rum, and tired loving could
aflFord was had by all. Two girls fell to scuffling in the sand, fighting
over some question of professional ability; the afternoon droned and
fidgeted in last week's jokes and invading ants.
Tio, longing for a taste of Miss Ivy's souse, watched her stuff
herself while he hung over Gladys's shoulder and play-acted
passionate caresses. Miss Ivy did enjoy her food. She flourished her
napkin and smacked loudly as she cleaned up the last of the bowl.
Tio looked as if he would cry.
At length he grew tired of Gladys's giggles and the thick-tongued
din of the crowd. He rose and wandered along the beach until the
sounds of the party were far behind. When he came to a quiet lagoon
he swam and lay in the almost-still water. It cleared his head a httle
and he felt sad and used.
But, restless, he continued along the beach until he came upon a
fishing settlement that was very poor with only a few proper houses.
Most of the buildings were ajupaSy huts of mud walls and palm-
trash thatch. A half-dozen shabby boats were beached in a cluster.
Everywhere the village had the sleepiness of a strictly observed
Sabbath; even the children, hanging Hstless in doorways, seemed to
have lost their energy.
Why dey don't go in de grave, he thought superiorly.
He came by a little shop, known in these parts as a "parlor," and
he decided to buy some food to fill the empty spaces he had hope-
fully, foolishly left for Miss Ivy's food.
When he entered the shop there was no one in sight; he rapped
sharply on the counter. In a glass case he saw coconut sweetbread
where busy bees tried in vain to escape. He watched them settle to
nibble nervously, then fly up and buzz fiercely against the glass.
Black Hues of ants were busy up and down a chipped glass jar of
red peppermint sweets. Fhes droned and spiders waited in webbed
She had entered so silently that he wasn't aware of her at first;
evidently from the moving curtains she had come from Hving
quarters in the back.
"Wat ya want, mister?" she asked.
"Ah wanta little souse and maybe some of de sweetbread but none
of dem in de lookin' case. And a Httle pepper sauce to trow on de
"Ah ain't have no souse, ah sorry. Ah hav sweetbread now cookin'
in de oven. If ya can wait— wait."
"Well, awright den. Ya have someting salty dey? Ah had a httle
drink, salt in ma belly would clear ma head."
"We ain't have no salt but ya wait here, ah'U get ya someting."
She smiled and went inside.
"Oh Gawd, it touch me!" he thought. He couldn't take his eyes
from her. She wasn't a bit pretty; actually he had seen mongrel dogs
that looked better. But she had a freshness and she was young,
youngl Pure as rain water, no question of that. He made a bet with
himself that his attractions had their effects on more than just the
"spoates." After his long siege with tired women it seemed to him
that he deserved sometliing fresher.
The girl returned witli an enamel bowl of salt-fish-onion cucu and
avocado on a tray. Beside the bowl lay two loaves of golden hot
sweetbread and a glass of snowball with guava syrup.
This was indeed more than he expected and, sitting on a ruin of
a wicker chair, he ate. The girl smiled. He occasionally paused his
chewing to give her his stand-by, a little twisted smile that spoke
shyness and the piu-est of intent. She did not speak, but her eyes
never left hhn. Obviously against her will she broke into smile after
With a loud smack of relish Tio drained the last of the snowball
and she took the tray from him.
Shyly she tucked her head down and on some brave impulse Tio
asked the price of the meal. For a terrible moment it seemed from
her silence that she would name a price but in the end she said,
"Nuhtin', let me treat ya, ya looked half starved standin dey. Any-
way, dis ain't de kinda food we sell here, ah wouldn't know wat to
"Ah bet it all ya food ah eat!" he cried in a great show of shock.
She smiled. "Dey more wey dat come from."
Leaning over the counter, with his greasy fish mouth he kissed her
on the cheek, then quickly he drew back and hung his head. He
hoped the look that he set on his face was the one of charming guilt
She laughed nervously. "No one never kiss me for food before,"
she said, and Tio was sure that her feet, hidden behind the counter,
were pigeon-toed. The path was clear, he was sure, if only he
remembered to go slow.
"Sweetheart, wat you name?" he asked.
"All des girls out here is as nice and kind and as pretty as you?"
"Oh Gawd, man, go on. Ah ain't generous,'* she said, "and anyway
. . . nuhtin' . . ." She broke off into a blush. If he had tried such a
tired line elsewhere, in the city especially, he would have gotten
only half-mast eyelids, a dreary smile, and a sarcastic, "Man, ya
want me open you face? Don't give me no basket of water."
They talked, or rather he did, for some time. He painted himself
blue, with v^gs and a halo, ending v^th her all pink on a silver
cloud. He asked if he could see her again and perhaps take her for
a walk— just along the beach.
"Ma mudder don't lemme go out wid strangers."
Mudderp Oh Gawd, she have one too! he thought. He bent a
knee over the other and looked back forlorn. "Ah guess ah shouldn't
be so frontin'. Dis de first time ah really fall in love . . ."
He noted that she rose right up on her toes at the word love; it was
the all-time curiosity; women never could resist that word.
"Ma mudder wouldn't like it— but someway ah ain't feel strange
He decided that he would ignore her mention of her mother; they
had been the downfall of many an evening's diversions. And country
mothers were famous for the sharp eyes they kept on their young
daughters. He decided that a bold stroke was necessary.
"Girl, ah sorry ya can't go wdd me. Ah guess ah keepin' ya back
from you work . . ." He moved to the door, dragging his feet.
"Seven o'clock?" she almost whimpered.
The hook was deep in sohd flesh; he turned, hardly able to keep
his face down to a smile.
"Ah mean, ah might meet ya on de beach— by de boats?"
"Ah really hope ya come . . ." he said plaintively, and dashed
out before he burst wide, high, and howUng.
Outside he didn t let go either; a group of silent children and
withered old people stood in a group across the dirt street. All their
eyes held to him as he walked off the porch. A child whispered to
another; they set to giggHng and ran behind the trousers and skirts
of their solemn elders. Tio walked erect in a show of pride, but he
hurried. Something about them was sobering, old eyes staring calmly
and children laughing at him. In the country he was more than a
stranger; its people seemed of another species, strange animals with
strange ways, somehow threatening.
Ah sure dey never see a gamecock like me before, he thought
against the disquieting feeling they gave, and he hurried. Before
seven he had to get his clothes and return. His unpredictable watch,
shining as if it were gold, said three; it was most likely past five.
He remembered the girl's words. "Ah might meet ya on de beach."
He laughed. Might, oh me Gawd, if she mudder tie she foot she
would eat de rope widout salt to get dey! he thought proudly, and
happily he ran most of the way back to the party of "spoates."
And he arrived just in time, for there were preparations for the
departure. Groups of twos and tlirees manipulated the distance to
the bus with strange, arduous footwork. Miss Ivy wasn't speaking,
and just as well. She was the only one who held her liquor well
enough to think of questioning his disappearance. He showed her his
teeth of pearls and, curling her Hp, she packed up her picnic basket
with a clatter of tin and chipping enamel. Dressing casually, tucking
his red silk shirt into his white duck trousers, he held that innocent
smile up for Miss Ivy until she twitched in buy.
Poor Ivy Bendel, now sailing at a fast clip past her prime, had not
as yet learned that one yawn of feined boredom could wither this
child. No one needed binoculars to see her melt when Tio picked up
her basket and led her to the bus.
Like a mattress maker he stuffed her in the door, into the crowd
inside, and said good-by. She was naked surprise.
"Ah feel to stay here and loll off— and tink,'* he said delicately.
"Wat do ya? Ya wanta sit out dey and study you navel, ah spose!"
Miss Ivy snarled, and she turned fiercely to burrow deeper into the
crowd but not before Tio saw the gHstening of a tear in her eye.
The bus, with exhaustion that had long been acute, coughed and
snorted; a collection of hoarse or high voices squealed and tittered
into the singing of Mudder Mary's calypso:
*'Dis party was nice. Mister,
We-go-make nudder one nicer.
If it good time ya look for.
Pack you suitcase, knock ma door , . ."
Tio gave the bus his attention only imtil it disappeared along the
dirt road; it roared around a bend at high speed under the un-
merciful goading of its gas pedal. Humming the chorus of the ca-
lypso, Tio headed like contagious sin back to his rendezvous at the
And while he made good time along the beach he lectured himself
hard on the necessity of patience and timing with this country girl.
A pleasant quiet lay over the beach, the tide was coming in, a
cooling wind came off the sea where a faint lavender gloom was
gathering in preparation for night. Tio saw nothing but he felt a
blood-pumping joy in his adventure. For too long life had been the
same dull rounds of sin. Only a slight gnawing of conscience affected
him, but tomorrow he would have a grand scene ^vith Miss Ivy and
surely by nightfall his meal ticket would be secure again.
By the time he reached the lagoon that separated the long beach
and the cove where the village lay, the light was drab and fickle.
He jumped at the soimd of a voice nearby, "Young man, ou, ouu
..." An old woman came tottering from behind the trunk of a palm.
**Light ma pipe for me, eh?" she asked.
**Ah guess so," Tio said, and he dug into his pocket, surprised that
his hand was shaking. There was something about these country
people that set him back to childhood, a fear of the dark and a
questioning for the right and wrong of things.
"Ya is one dem people from de excusion?"
"Yes," Tio said somewhat proudly; he struck a match and Ht her
In the momentary flicker she looked up at his green eyes afloat
in their red basins. "Ya does drink a lot?"
Annoyed, he said, "Yes!" Then, **Ya brassy to ask me dati"
"Out here we has to be careful of ya town people."
He hurried to be rid of her before he reached his rendezvous with
the girl. She called, **Wait now, man, ya can't see ah old? Ah can't
walk as fast as all ya young people."
"Sorry, girl, ah in a hmry," and he set out fast.
Behind him he heard her laugh. "De old always catch up wid
de young— sooner or later," she called, and her cackle wandered and
evaporated on the breeze.
Leaping dead coconut fronds and the debris of tides in his
enthusiasm, he raced around the lagoon until he came upon the
cluster of beached boats. There he wandered until he heard a faint
voice call, "Mister, mister . . ."
From the dark interior of one of the boats the young girl sat up
and he went to her, helping her climb out.
"Ah hope ah ain't keep ya waitin'?" he asked eagerly.
"Ah was so anxious ah get here early— ya come on de nose."
"Ah run like mad," he said.
"Ma mudder want to see ya."
"Eh? Awright," he said nervously, "if ya say so. But come take a
"Well, ah shouldn't ya know . . ."
"Ah just wanta be wid ya myself— for a minute," he pleaded.
"Awright den. Just down de beach."
Tio breathed a gentle sigh of reHef and led the girl away, along
the sea. She held onto his hand in silence as he talked, always having
a rigid care for his words so they might reflect a pure innocence.
His talk was, he thought, very high-class stuff. The moon lifting over
the hill was pointed out as a grapefruit; the sky was described as a
royal purple though it was at the moment only an obvious plain
gray. Tio was the sort of man who hadn't as yet noticed the
difference between rose and red; as he was a descendant of a long
line of loose battle-axes it was to his credit that he could distinguish
between yellow and deep blue or night and day. He stuttered and
stumbled, trying to be a poet.
Merle let herself be led by blind love. She ate whole any well-
cooked comphment he offered and, not so different from the city
girls, she couldn't tell a spider web when she was sitting in the
middle of it; it all looked like fluttering silk. Tio's crude web could
not help work well.
Together they rested under a sea-grape tree; the beach was deso-
late and dim with moonhght. He kissed her cheeks, her throat and
moved into caresses; she quivered with dehcious chills and fevers
that were new to her. The only men this child had known were the
honest, hard-worldng fishermen who came on rare occasions to her
"parlor" for cigarettes or sweets. A shy glance or a gentle advance
went unnoticed. Even for the country she was a httle slow; subtleties
were wasted on her.
However, Tio, innocent of her shallows, was busy congratulating
himself on his restraint. An approach so slow would have been
hilarious to Miss Ivy or the "spoates"; they were conditioned to
aggressive, timesaving love. Staunchly and regularly he reminded
himself that he was picking posies in another garden.
Barely as Tio reached the moment when the first buttons were in
hand the coohng wdnd brought a few drops of rain. Merle squirmed.
A distant groan of thunder and a flicker of lightning played out at
sea. Merle leaped up so quickly that Tio was tumbled over. He rose,
furious. But Merle, wanting only to be under something solid in case
of hghtning, grabbed his hand and showed this city boy how to run.
Darting from tree to tree, she dragged him behind and though he
shouted for her to stop at every breathing space she showed no
reaction. Her whole, not-too-extensive mind was encompassed with
the immediate tlireat of a bolt of lightning and she ran.
The journey back took little time; tliey made the rickety gallery
of the "parlor" in an earnest downpour. Merle plunged through the
door wdthout hesitation, shouting for her mother with lungs she
hadn't displayed before, and Tio was down the steps, into the street
before he realized that there was no reason to run. He was amazed
to find himself in the unusual position of innocence. Even wetter, he
returned and timidly entered the shop.
The girl was cradled in the arms of an old woman who was
bundled in widow's black. She caressed and shushed the whimper-
ing girl. Tio would have turned and quietly left but for the rain; he
was trapped, his charms were wet, and he felt disgusted by the
girl's childish scene. In his mind he swore allegiance to Miss Ivy and
her kind; they made Hfe far simpler.
Suddenly Merle leaped up and put a smile on her homely face
for Tio. "Aw Gawd, ah sorry," she said. "Ah really fraid de lightnin."
Ah would never have guess so, Tio thought sullenly.
The old woman turned to him; she was much like the one he had
seen earlier on the beach.
"Dis is ma mudder," she said to Tio, and to the old woman, "He
name is Tio. He de boy ah tell ya bout."
The mother rose, clutcliing her black shawl, and came up to Tio.
"Light ma pipe for me, eh?" she asked as she puffed a wisp of smoke
in his face.
"Mudder, you pipe hghted," the girl said with a frown of puzzle-
"Uh oh, is truel" she laughed, and she laid a cold, Ump hand in
Tio's. He pumped it woodenly. She narrowed her eyes at him and
he returned the gesture, scowling in addition.
"Boy, ya look Hke a wet chicken. Girl, take de boy's clothes. Put
dem on a chair near de stove, dey dry quick, quick."
"Ah'm leavin' just now," Tio interrupted.
"Ya ain't goin no place tonight, ya stayin' here."
Merle, happy to keep him at hand, said, "Ya can't go back to
town wet- wet- wet, ya catch TB."
Tio had only to listen for a moment to the rain on the tin roof to
decide to make his bed here. Who know, she might creep to me in
de dark, he thought.
"If ya say so," he said with a sigh.
"Go make hot cocoa, girl. Ah get him someting to cover hisself."
The girl disappeared into the back and the old woman followed,
pausing to turn and smile.
Tio stripped off his shirt, his favorite red silk one. "Ma shirt done,"
he muttered, and he hung it carefuUy over the end of the counter
The old woman poked a sheet through the curtain and Merle
came in with a broom, shyly keeping her eyes down. She swept a
place on the floor and took the sheet from him, folding and spreading
it carefully. Touching his hand gently, she went out again without
her eyes ever Hfting to his smirk.
He undressed and the smell of cocoa drifted in to him as he
arranged his wet clothes and settled between the fold of the sheet.
Wearily he summed up his adventure. Wat ah tink is solid gold is
turn out to be a poor kinda brass!
In the kitchen Merle was sputtering, holding her voice down as
she poured out her tale of true love. The old woman hstened quietiy
to the girl until she ran down to only an agonized smile.
"How he does make he bread?" the old woman asked.
Merle proudly repeated Tio's lie. "He a overseer from town, he
makin' good money, he on his vacation."
"Girl, ah tink ya Hke him."
"After all, M udder, ah has to git married someday and he Hke
me— so . . ."
"Awright den, girl, if ya like him, anyting ya want. But ah want
to look in his eye a little longer." Gently she took Merle's face in
her hands. "Ah ain't trust him at all, someting in he eye ah ain't sure
of. And honey, ya is you mudder's only cup of tea and ah ain't want
it to spill," the old woman said, and she kissed the girl's forehead.
"Mudder, he a good man, ah feel he good, ah know it."
"Girl, ya go to sleep, ah take he cocoa in."
The girl smiled and obediently went farther back to where their
beds were. Her mother took up the cup of cocoa and went in to
Tio. She kneeled slowly and carefully on the floor, resting the cup
"Ya no good saga boy, ya tell she ya love she. Is true?" she asked.
"Anyting ya say, old lady," he smiled, and loudly he sucked at
the hot cocoa.
"Ah hope ya ain't touch she."
"Me?" Tio asked in shocked innocence.
"Wid ma two eyes ah go watch ya dis night, don't go try nuhtin'."
"Old lady, ya got ya a dirty mind," he said, sucking his teeth.
Then he smiled wryly.
The old woman rose with a groan and looked down at him with
her tiny bright eyes. "Sweet dreams of soucouyans, sweetheart, out
here dey does fly all night," she said, and took up the lamp.
"Ya want a soucouyan come suck ma sweet blood? Wey ya want
do? Ya want me tink ya don't like me, sweetheart?"
She gave him only a cold look and went out, leaving Tio in the
dark. He sipped at his cocoa and fidgeted on the hard boards of the
In his childhood he had never slept on anvthi'ng else, but the lon^
luxury of Mudder Mary's beds had softened him. He lay on his back,
Witches . . .
he remembered, the most comfortable position, and he Hstened to
the steady rain. In the country it was a gloomy sound. The countryl
He hated it and its people, slow, mean minds in all of them.
The old woman was a real delight— "Have sweet dreams of
soucouyans"— very nice! Cheerful, too. He regretted that he hadn*t
the satisfaction of deflowering her precious baby. Soucouyan, in-
deed! She probably was one herself.
And as he lay there he remembered another old woman, one his
mother left him with each night before she went out on her rounds.
She had been mean-talking, as sly or slyer than this one, but un-
deniably she had a good heart. Stories poured from her by the hour
of her youth in the country, of its witches and fairy folk, a soucouyan
peeling its skin in the moonlight. She swore that she had seen one.
After hiding the skin in a mortar it had turned to a ball of fire
and flew off like a comet in search of a victim. They drained people
of their blood; ". . . drain ya dry Hke a suck-up orange," she had
She told him how he might protect himself, by sprinkling salt
around his bed. It was a law laid down by the good Lord that tlie
soucouyans had to count each grain before they could touch a
person. The old woman had figured that foiu" tablespoons would
last the night; at dav^i, of course, they had to be back in their skins
and look like decent people. Once when she had frightened him
numb she gave him the salt to circle his mat on the floor.
There had been tales of dwenns, the baby spirits, that snatched
young, unbaptized children; Lago Ho, a werewolf, and a myriad of
stories of curses and the ancient Shango gods brought from Africa.
As he lay waiting for sleep there was something comforting and
cozy about remembering the old woman and her tales; little by little,
the rain on the tin roof droning, he slept.
In the night he woke quickly out of a noisy steel-drum dream to
the dead country quiet of wind and nothing more. It was still dark.
He moved slowly, trying to remember how he had gotten on tliis
floor. His body had gone to a stiff mass of sore muscles; a fierce ache
worried the small of his back.
Gradually he remembered the events of the evening before; he
sat up painfully. The prospect of morning, the ugly old woman, and
her homely daughter was no invitation to further sleep. He fidgeted
in indecision, whether to clear out now or finish the night. The girl
would weep as Ivy had, because of him. It seemed odd as always;
he had difficulty believing that he had the power to make women
weep. It hurt him in some way.
He decided that she was lucky; only one set of tears and leaving
her intact, too. His defeat amazed him and, had the girl one hint
of beauty, he would have hung around. Perhaps, considering the
added burden of her mother's eye, he wouldn't have, he thought,
and he rose, feeling for his clothes in the dark.
After he had dressed with a careful silence, the damp clothes
clammy and sticking, he moved as carefully out the front door onto
the porch. The rain had passed and, to his surprise, the full moon
was high. It couldn't be anywhere near morning. But, rather than
return to the hard floor, he traveled across the moonlit sand toward
the scene of the picnic and the road out to a highway. The best he
could expect was to wait out the night shivering against some tree
along the highway until he could get a lift or maybe a bus. He dug
into his pocket to check on his bank roll; it was damp but safely
there, two dollars bound with a rubber band. Lucky de old witch
didn't go trough ma pockets when ah sleep, he thought, and he
Along the beach he traveled, hopping quickly to shake off sleep
and the chill of his damp clothes. The sea, dark of water, pale of
foam, ran up the beach in long streamers that withered, tlien leaped
up again. The wind was steady, northerly and cold. He had many
hard names to call himself for ending up in this mess. He reminded
himself that he must play up the hard rain and the cold when later
he had the reconciliation scene with Miss Ivy. Dis stuff is good water
to trow in she basket, he thought. Ah suffer so, ma heart break till ma
face get wet. . . he practiced.
As he was walking he sighted an ajupa of ruined mud walls and
a half-off thatch roof; he went up to the edge of the trees to in-
vestigate it. Obviously it was abandoned; most of its drifted-sand
floor was dry. Finding a piece of driftwood, he dug out a trough in
the sand and, patting and brushing with his hands, he formed a
neat bed and fitted his weary body in. The sand was luxiurious com-
pared to the hard boards; he slept almost immediately.
Tlie grunt of a pig awakened him. He rolled over and saw it in
the moonlit doorway not three feet from his head. Quickly he leaped
up, shouting and flagging his arms at it to chase it away. Moving back
a step, it grunted and lay down, blocking the door. Unused to
animals, he was frightened by its stubbornness and some time passed
before he gathered courage. But slowly, sidling up near the pig, he
gave it a soHd kick. Squealmg shrilly, it leaped up and ran.
Tio laughed, somewhat nervously, over his victory and ran out to
watch the defeated pig run away. But it was nowhere in sight.
Ah aint know pig could run like dog, he thought, and, scratching
his head he turned to go back in.
The scream he let out seemed to bring his lungs up with a tearing
of cords and tissues. Too frightened to run, he just stood and looked,
uttering successive gasps and in the end thin squawkings. A piece
of raw meat the size and shape of a man leaned against the door-
jamb. Under its moist siirface with one Httle tear, he thought, the
blood waited to rush out. It moved a step toward liim; he saw its
eyes naked of hds, the red-rubber flesh of lips parted in a grimace
over yellow teeth.
"Soucouyan, soucouyan, soucouyan . . ." the word repeated in his
mind. And, spineless, he melted into a lump and, legs spread-eagled,
he lay fainting on the sand.
As he came aroiuid in the burning sun his ear was grated by a
wispy thread of a noise. When he had gathered himself, eyes flut-
tering to get used to the sun, he saw the girl's mother sitting by the
door of the ajupa busy with her song. At her leisure she let it trail
off and turned her eyes on him. She smiled.
"Is sunstroke ya want?'*
He said nothing in return; he was too busy trying to figure out if
the night had been all dreams or not.
"You and you teeth de same color dis morning. Come back home,
let Merle fix up you breakfast."
"Merle?" he asked dumbly.
"Ya playin' ya forget ma daughter's name? She waitin' for ya."
"Woman, move dey, you and you daughter make me sick."
"Saga boy, ya come back cause ah say so! Ah don't make joke. She
tink ya wanta marry she, no man go hurt she hopes."
Tio snorted in reply and got up.
She rose and came briskly over to him. Pulling down the collar
of her dress, she exposed a great blue mark across her neck. "Ya
could kick hard wid ya big foot."
"De pigl Ya is de soucouyan," he said thinly.
"Ya kinda slow. Yes, sweetheart, soucouyan, pig today, goat to-
morrow, anyting ah want ah is. Ya faint fore ah could reach ma peak,
ma flames, ah is de biggest blazin' ball of fire ya ever wanta see,
and ya calHn' yaself a man!"
"Woman, why ya foolin' wid me?"
"Move ya carcass, son-in-law, ya marrin' ma Merle."
"If ya tink ah'm movin', ya stupid," Tio said with a slight smirk.
The old woman folded her arms and gave a weary sigh. "Ah know
wat ya go say, but go ahead if ya go feel better."
Tio hesitated, no longer sure; she was too frighteningly sure of
herself. Timidly he asked, "De daytime does cut you wings, eh?
Ah could scoot off fast as ah can, nuhtin' could stop me?"
"You sweet talk ain't got enough sugar, move bridegroom, move!"
"Ya could stop me from leavin'?" Tio asked uncertainly.
"Don't ask for de nighttime, ah could find va wherever va is. .All
could fly faster dan you could run. Saga boy, shut you mout, lemme
tell ya de possibilities. First ya trow me in de dirt and den va go
down to town. Ya sittin' up de night, ya know ya can't shut vou eves.
Sooner or later, wid salt round you bed, va sleep. Fine, den va have
hold me off just fine. But don't ever fiie a shot of rum so ya forget
Witches . .
ya salt or it be me and you blood. As to killin' me, only a priest conld
do dat and ya livin' behind Gawd's back. You future ain't so long as
you talkin tongue."
Tio rummaged through the half-remembered old-woman tales of
childhood and, his brow furrowed in concentration, he squinted.
The old woman tapped her foot impatiently, but she indulged him.
"Ya tink ya could fool me, ya see me bust a kick on de pig and . . .'*
"And wat? Ya go find yaself at ma door at eleven o'clock. And ah
mean eleven o'clock dis dayl" She strode off without giving him a
Dumbly he watched her until she passed around the curve of the
beach and he sat for sometime without a thought.
But gradually he set to thinking, planning his future life with salt.
Surely he would be a sad figure skipping around from girl to girl
sprinkling salt first in case he fell asleep after. Miss Ivy would have
a roll-on-the-floor laugh, no doubt. There was even the possibility
that he might be kicked out of Mudder Mary's and the trail that
led from there ended in work. It was aU dismal. He thought of how
"pure" and delicious hfe had been before with the "spoates" and he
became slowly angry. At length, as he continued to think on the
old woman and her homely daughter, he managed to feel a definite
outrage; they were clearly taking advantage of him. He set off down
the beach, heading for the city and swearing that he would rather
be dead than spoil good life with these country females, danger of
a soucouyan or not.
At eleven, actually quarter to, he was on the porch of the "parlor"
sad-eyed and defeated. On his journey to the highway a herd of
pigs had crossed the road and he had run most of the way back.
The old woman came out to sit with him. "Ah see ya come. Ya
an obedient boy, man."
"One ting ya don't know bout me, ah a gambler."
"Ya tink ya a gambler? Ya a clown, too," she said, and she laughed
with the heartiness of the victor.
When Merle called, "Ah'm ready," the old woman led him in to
view his betrothed. In a high-necked white organdy dress with leg-
of-mutton sleeves she looked dimly plausible; however, any rise in
his estimation of her beauty was destroyed by her dirty white canvas
shoes and short socks. He sat on a chair weakly and, taking his pale-
ness for a man in love, she giggled coyly.
At length the three of them set off for the church to register the
marriage banns and Tie's pride squirmed as Merle introduced him
to every person along the way as her fiance. She seemed to know
everyone and these thickset, clear-eyed villagers sized him up, re-
checked Merle, and passed on with some puzzlement. Even in his
bad dreams he had never imagined himself smiling in the face of
shame, but he smiled and found himself envying even the toothless
old derelicts who looked up from their bottles of rum to grin.
They entered the gray stone church and Tio noted that the old
woman was careful to keep her head down, avoiding the sight of
the cross. Tlie marriage banns were registered to be read the next
Sunday. Merle placed her X in the book. With a flourish of pride
Tio wrote his name and cared not a bit that the priest eyed him
curiously. His frank looks of disgust for the girl were indeed an odd
reaction for her groom.
Later, when they had returned to the "parlor," the old woman led
him for a walk on the beach and she filled in the details of her
bargain. "If ya only whisper soucouyan to she ah stop you breadt. If
ah catch ya wid anudder ting in a skirt ya learn to fill you pocket
wid salt, man. Ya understand?"
Tio nodded docilely.
For seven days he walked about like a man with fever; the nights
were long sessions of fidgets, strange dreams, and fear. He bore
Merle's exuberant hugs and her loud, wet kisses. In the brief periods
that he was left alone he hunted frantically and vainly for salt—
a little salt to sprinkle and he could sleep with some peace. Never
missing a chance, the old woman smiled up in his face, her lips
pursed and her old eyes bright with malice. His mind ran hke a
mouse in a box searcliing for some way to defeat her, to be free again.
Life had always given him luck and he was sure that he would have
it again. But luck was a woman and he knew too well their fickle ways.
Banns were read on Sunday and Tio sat in church listening to
them with a sometimes sad, sometimes sarcastic smile. Merle didn't
look quite the picture of bliss that was expected either; his odd
behavior was beginning to penetrate into the gray fluff of her mind.
Several times he thought of shouting out the whole story of the trap
he was in, but the smiling old woman had showed him her yellow
teeth too many times. With a shudder he remembered the creature
of raw meat and the pig so close to his head as he slept. And it was
hopeless to dream that one of the villagers might lodge a protest
with the priest— so much the idiot they all seemed— but with nothing
else to catch he hoped anyway.
No complaint was lodged; the wedding on Monday was a simple
affair. Merle's aunt, the old woman's sister, appeared early. On the
porch the two old crones had a busy conference of whispers and
from her knowing smile it was certain that she too was a soucouyan.
Fortunately rum was in abundance and he steeled himself during
the eleventh hour. Arranged on the counter were cakes and bottles
of rum, orange wine and tin or enamel bowls with food, all that was
necessary for the reception.
Merle appeared in the same white organdy dress, the same leg-
of-mutton sleeves; only the shoes had changed, to shining new open-
toed pumps. With her fat little toes peeking out and the short white
socks in attendance she tottered about on skinny heels.
Aunt Gratsa placed a stiff thumb in Tio's ribs and hissed from
behind, "Ya better give she some sweet talkl" The sharp thumb
"Ya lookin* nice," he said through his teeth.
Merle stood still, then staggered to him on her uncertain heels;
a look of pain was on her face. She touched his lips with her hand
and mumbled, "Dou-dou darlin' . . ."
Aunt Gratsa was between them before the girl could continue
into questions, as she surely would have. "Ya look like a queen, ya
sweet, he lucky I" she said fiercely.
The old woman's eyes held him as Merle asked, "Tio, ya is a
lucky man?" There was a dull quiet in her voice.
"Ah know ma luck," he said, and he looked away from the old
At the church they took communion, the four of them; the couple
took theirs with unsteady grace. From the corner of his shifting eye
Tio saw the aunt cover her mouth and cough, deftly she slipped the
host into her hand and with one quick movement she dropped the
wafer in her bosom. With some disgust Tio knew that she would use
it later, turning its God power to her own evil purposes, to some
Obeah charm. Beyond the bland, homely face of his bride he saw
her mother, like her aunt, eyes carefully kept down as they flanked
Watching the bright vestments of the priest, he concentrated on
them until he achieved a calm. He could wait, he decided; he could
fulfill the soucouyan's demands and by sheer force of his long-
practiced, carefully refined meanness be asked out of the bargain.
But as soon as possible he must arm himself with salt, just in case.
Busy with his plans and strategies, he heard little of the vows;
when poked he said his "ah do" and calmly planted tlie binding kiss.
Not once during the procession back to the "parlor" did he hear any
of the rude compliments thrown to him. He set his teetli and lips to
a grimace of a smile and he planned.
At the reception he took his rum straight and steadily until the
clutter of half-empty shelves, people, spider webs, and even the
light of day whirled and clouded in his eyes. And as he felt the last
of his mind slipping under he laughed until he heard nothing more.
When he woke it was bright morning; he found Merle sitting
beside him. She smiled shyly and, pulling her wrapper close around
her, she rose to prepare his breakfast. With the sullenness of hang-
over and disgust he formulated his approach for that day. With
little variation it would continue for all their days togetlier; its neat
cleverness was liis only plausible chance.
Witches . . .
"Wey you mudder?" he asked.
"She gone to spend time wid Auntie Gratsa, she say to tell ya
special, if she ever needed she go come back. Tio, she parlor is we
own, she leave it for we to do wat we want. She say, young people
don't need no mudder-in-law round dey necks. Ah was too surprised
to say de furst word . . /'
He let her chatter, there was no need to ask questions, she told
everything. The two old soucouyans had gone to a mountain village
near Arima where Aunt Gratsa must have been a much-feared, well-
paid Obeah woman. "She sets de person's problems straight," Merle
had said. The warning that lay behind her mother's message was
plain but, at least, she wouldn't be able to keep a twenty-four-hour
watch on him. He looked at Merle with a sad smile. Ya poor ting, he
thought, ya go get it hard for ya weak head.
From that day on he used every excuse to make her miserable
but always as if he wanted to be truthful, or kind, or to help her.
He started first v^th his past and he dealt it straight, choosing what-
ever coarse word he could. Her face flared to redness, her young
"Ah jest want ya to know me," he explained.
"Why ya ever . . ." She dropped her head and did not continue.
But Tio took the opening to pose as good and lovely. "Ah couldn't
open ma mout before or ya wouldn'ta cross de church door wid me."
And she gave him a glance and a smile.
Shortly after he left her minding the shop and went to the village,
sporting her cigarettes and his breath heavy with her rum. In the
market he bought from his two-dollar bank roll a pound bag of
salt and, taking great pains, moving in the bush, he slipped back
to the house. In the back yard he salvaged an old kerosene tin from
the trash pile, carefully lowered the bag of salt into it, and took it to
the side of the house. Under the floor of the house he selected a
thick support that would hide the can; he noiselessly shoved it be-
hind. Having salt now, safe from rain and near enough for quick
access, he breathed easier.
Over the days he managed to teU Merle every detail of his women
and their stream of men, telling her that he was a stevedore, no
overseer, and at tliat, on permanent vaeatioii. Slie onlv lowered her
eyes and kept silent. In the breathing, thinking spaees he drank at
the supply of rum, or at any bottle that had a toueh of alcohol, until
he achieved each day a deep, laughing drunk. When the liquor was
all gone Tio was surprised to find tliat Merle could be quick too;
her money was not to be found when he turned for it.
After one hot, dull day without a drink he breathed deep and set
upon her his sweet eye and honeyed talk until she promised a bottle.
To save her reputation and avoid the sly gibes of the villagers, she
bought the rum herself, that day and every day after.
The shop's business, always hard, could not support the outlay.
Her eyes lowered, she took on a squint of weariness that added
nothing to her looks and stole her only decent attraction, her fresh-
ness. In the deep of the night she wept quietly and bit her hps to
soreness. From troubled sleep she woke with determination and
lost it by noon. Whenever she would gather courage to lift her head
and slit her eyes, be it day or night, Tio was quick to make love, to
whisper love and set her spinning, but, later, to hint that she was not
a match for other love-makers, and earnestly she would try and try
What had seemed to Tio to be a quick, easy job was not; Merle,
though well battered, missed the sharp edges of much of his talk.
She had a dogged insistence that was hard to cut down. Gradually
he realized that he would have to be more blunt; he must plant in
her head the idea of throwing liim out and, already weary, he
tiiidged in flailing.
But she countered his every smiling barb with a new will to please
until it became apparent that he was the one who could not last
the course. He worried and cursed to himself and thought on tlie
bag of salt, so protecting, so near under tlie house.
One day Merle did not appear with his rum and he set about his
pouts and the tales of his glorious woman-paying past. She hung her
head over her cooking. After he worried her ueck with kisses and
her wooden body with caresses he said, "Wey ma rum?" The words
came out with an anger he had not intended.
She turned away quickly and went into the back. Tio sucked his
teeth and snorted wearily, ardent love-making was in order to take
anger from her eyes. But she returned almost immediately and
handed him her purse. Saga boy, he thought, ya better grab ya salt
bag and fly back to town— course, wid de money.
He opened the purse and searched the Uttle paper sacks, the old
tobacco bag, side pockets and pouches, no money was there.
"We broke," she said flatly; no sweetness flavored the words.
"Well, ya go have to do sometingl" he said.
She sat down and fidgeted as girlishly as the first day he had met
her and she smiled up shyly. "Tio, is you have to pay de rent, ah has
a child inside me. Ah can't do everyting no more maself. Ah got
Miss Kerry's clothes to wash, and tree, four udder people promise,
but ah can't keep it up steady."
He sat for a moment quietly and then, leaving her to think what
she would, he went out of the house into the late afternoon sun. She
had no idea what went on inside of him; once she might have been
hopeful, but now she allowed herself no speculation. Behind all the
questions she might probe there was a feeling of sickness, strange
and irresolute, insistently there but never giving even the satisfaction
of a sharp pain. It held her full attention; it was her spirit, too often
twisted or attacked by weapons with which she had no experience.
Tio came back to eat a dull breadfruit and avocado meal in silence.
Merle hummed and took pains to make the poor meal look gay while
Tio munched and dreamed of Miss Ivy's pig-foot souse.
"If ya could go cut cane we could make a little raise to buy food
for de parlor— we could do business," she ventured.
"Cut wat cane? Me? Ya embecile, ya drag me down!" He rose
and stood over her. "Ain't ya understand? Ah de child of a old hoore
and ah like it. Dey ma brand and ma speed. And dat wey ah belongl
Ya keep you damn' childl"
Merle sat with her head down, her nervous fingers twisting a shred
of breadfruit hull into pieces. Raising her eyes, she watched him pull
on his red silk shirt.
"Why ya ever marry me?" she asked wearily.
And he poured it out fast and disconnected; she sat twisting with
a little moan over the shock of it. "Soucouyans! Soucouyans! False.
Ah never love ya, not a minute. Ya was a fresh piece of girl wat
tired now . . . Ah love nuhting but ma skin . . ."
Before she had even sorted the words she watched him pass
through the door, a bright red shirt, and it didn't seem that he was
truly leaving. Nothing of the words seemed truly true— that would
After securing his bag of salt to his belt Tio traveled along the
beach in anger; only shghdy could his fear poke tlirough. He passed
the beach and the dirt road and came to the liighway. Not before
then did fear bother him much, but, walking down the asphalt
highway in the growing dark, he felt unsure. He kept a hand on his
salt while he raised a thumb at every passing vehicle.
When the road was empty and no one had stopped he walked.
Vaguely in his mind he began to plan how he might regain his
favor with the "spoates" and also not live in terror of his life. They
would laugh at his fear of a soucouyan, at least most would, and
tliose who wouldn't were too narrow a field. The whole idea must be
neatly covered. Fantastic schemes came to him, posing as a daytime
lover exclusively (Ah could sleep wid salt nights.), coloring salt to
some dark color to be inconspicuously sprinkled (so little's needed
considering how big the count is to only a teaspoon ) —he would be a
A truck slowed and he hopped in, mildly disappointed that it
wouldn't go the whole way to the city. The driver was a fast man
boasting of the string of loves that punctuated his route, at least tliree
believing that he would make them honest women one dav. Tio
joined in telling of Mudder Mary's, of the constant struggle the girls
went through to get him and then to keep him. And when explaining
his being in this remote spot he told of liis virgin conquest as ii it
was a one day's lark. They laughed and blew the horn at peasant
girls swinging lazily along the highway in the truck's hghts.
Before they hit the first town there was a noticeable change in the
dress of the girls; they began to appear in long nightgown-like
"duets" hitched up in the back to a bustle effect. A half dozen or
more skirts showed their embroidered edges in the split behind. It
was the sure mark of a bele fete somewhere around. The driver
confirmed it and Tio pleaded for him to stop for a rest. Showing
somewhat grayer colors than his tales would have indicated, the
driver stuck to his schedule but he assured Tio that another lift would
be easy after the fete.
As the truck entered the town Tio was squirming in his seat; the
roadway was aHve with girls dressed to the toes, of every variety,
a wash of women he couldn't wait to plimge into. He parted from
the driver, vowing to set him up whenever he should appear at
Mudder Mary's. He left quickly, following the drums imtil he came
vvdth the crowd to a large open paviHon, flag-draped, festooned
with pink crepe paper, harsh, naked electric light bulbs, and loud
with laughter, shrill chatter, and drums.
At the far end of the paviHon old women were singing in Creole;
the dance floor was already crowded. He moved to a side table where
rum and cake, black pudding, and pig-foot souse were served, and,
feeling too big to pay in coins, he put down his only dollar and
jingled the change. He drank his rum neat for the bum of it, good
on his dusty throat. Then he sauntered to the edge of the dance
The gaiety had a knife-thrust effect on him; it cleaved him from
the sorry days just past and created a pain, a sweet pain of joy,
to be among his own kind again. His practiced eye sorted as deftly
as the most accomphshed chef might over already-sorted peas, the
exact color, the perfect size. A movement of hips and the tilt of a
head were aU he needed to grade a woman. The finest of them all
in his eye were those who were well used and enjoyed it.
Into a circle of voluptuous girls dancing the bele he moved with
his own grace. His shoulders shimmied a challenge and the girl had
only a second to decide if it were to be met. One moment longer
and he was turning to another on feet that had a very singular skill
in the intricate pattern of the dance. He needed no words; all the
necessary information was found in eyes, a brow lifted, the thin
smile of a dare. She would lift her skirt another inch and move
toward him; his eyes lowered, the lips withdrew from his white
teeth; the body moved with the drum without need of his commands.
No fewer than ten girls saw his back as he turned away after a
brief dance; he culled and he weeded, they failed by a flicker of
innocence and that was now a horror, a moment of indecision or a
slight leanness in the hips.
Past eleven he was deciding between two plump beauties with
faintly amused smiles and fierce energies. But neither one was to
be his favorite. Appearing on the floor from the crowd, a beautiful
woman— a hush faUing before her and a chatter of awe behind-
moved into the dancers. She carried her beauty as if it were glass
as she glided into a bele; a tliin smile flickered on her fuchsia lips.
Whipping the folds of her train, she danced fast, precise little steps
with gold-colored sHppers. Three embroidered petticoats flashed
their lace edges under her white and chartreuse dress. The trailing
lengths of a purple sash floated out from her tiny waist as she turned,
thrust, and withdrew her hips. She shimmied round breasts and
smooth, sloped shoulders from which a long neck balanced her dark
Tio gave no thought to whether he might gain her favor or not;
he thrust through the dancers and bowed, raising his eyes slowly.
She moved away from him, but he followed, eager to fight if her
beau should appear. She flirted with the men but showed them her
back as she moved on, a white and green coolness among die orange,
red, and hot-colored dresses of others.
As if she wearied of his presence she turned and stood still; he
smiled and tliiust out a foot, following it with a displav of his speed
and grace in the dance, then stopped. She took the challenge and,
singing a haunting hcdc chant against the drums, she moved slowlv
and when tlie song ended she came to liiui to wipe his perspiring
brow with her kerchief. Tio snatched it away; in the formal rules of
the dance he was accepting her favors; she set the pace and he
followed. He laid out his strength as they danced and she gave him
no moment of rest. But, far from unhappy, he noted that she fhrted
and smiled openly to every man she passed; for him she reserved
a small smile and it was a dare.
In the more than an hour they danced he had touched only her
hand, smelled her perfume, and felt the brushing cloth of her gown.
But in his mind he knew how soft her arms would be, he knew the
lushness of her flesh; it was part memories of many women, their
best hung to him and lay embedded in his mind. The drummers
stopped one by one as exhaustion took them until the last one drib-
bled o£F. The men applauded her wildly; the women with strained
smiles touched hands daintily and wliispered. No woman was so
foolish as to suppose that she was even remotely the queen, h reine
de la bele; such energy and grace were safe only when ignored. They
turned wide smiles to their men and were later to allow liberties
to pale the symbol that this woman had left. How many young men
that night kissed lips and imagined them to be hers no other woman
cared to think upon.
Tio followed her as she went out into the night's air; she walked on
without giving him a glance until he touched her shoulder. Turning
a frown to him, she looked as if he were some bothersome sti-anger.
Play it, girl! he thought with a smile.
"Lady, lemme walk ya home?" he asked.
She smiled wearily and continued on her way. Tio followed.
They traveled up above the town, up a hill, and Tio chattered,
working hard to convince her that he was on her level. She was no
child who would contend with a shy boy; neither was she a "spoate,"
but some rare, free creature that beauty creates.
"Come sit down here by me," Tio said breathlessly as they mounted
the crest of the hill.
She sat down, a little apart, and he moved close to her, showing
a respect and a skill in his touch that would have made one of his
usual women feel a lady. Since she showed no sign of resisting him
he moved in for a kiss; eagerly she loved back. And then, later, he
touched a moment when love-making was more than comfort or
pride or need and he savored it as he would have some perfectly
spiced dish of meat.
In the darkness she asked, "Do ah please ya?'*
"Ah ain't have nuhting good enough to say, girl," he answered,
and she laughed with her delicate voice.
As he lay resting it was as if she were the first woman he had
made his. With some anguish he knew that he would arrange him-
self in whatever form she wished if it meant having her. No women
after would be more than an attempt to find this one again.
When later he heard her rise, gathering her clothes, he felt too
peaceful to get up. She moved away to the trees, chanting some
lovely strange scrap of melody. He stretched, feehng the strength
in his body; somehow he must keep her for himself.
Her voice came hke a cry. "Tio! Tiol"
He sprang up, a fire was in the trees, and at first it seemed that
he saw her in it. But quickly he was remembering and he scrambled
for his belt and the bag of salt that hung to it. His fingers found
it nowhere, but he continued to search and cast looks back at the
gathering fire that now moved out of the trees. Giving up, he ran,
stumbling wildly. The fire kept pace, a few feet behind, and it called
But he was crying out, "SoucouyanI" as he fled, until he stumbled
again. The fire waited for him to rise and then followed, casting its
light so that he saw the path ahead. In fear he ran badly and fell
often as the path sloped down. He did not turn to see the fire, but
he felt its heat and as he ran he saw the glow of a light ahead, down
in the tree. Surely the town. It gave him new speed until, sliding
down a steep part of the path, he saw that it was another fire.
He plunged off the path and fell, stumbling and rolling until he
came to rest in a piquant bush, numerous of thorns.
Entangled there, he saw the two gatherings of fire come through
the trees; he shut out the sight and held back his cries and his breath
in the hope that they would pass. And, the thorns piercing his skin
in a multitude of places, he lay waiting.
At length he opened his eyes; the fires were gone and only the
darkness of trees lay against the lesser darkness of sky. He moved
and moaned in pain. Close by his ear a voice broke into a bele chant
and another laughed. He did not scream or plead; he chose to think
of all his women and the last was the most beautiful and the best.
A hand grabbed his soft hair and twisted his head back. The
soucouyan took his blood from the throat and left him pale and dead.
Then the two of them traveled along the paths that skirted the
town until they came to a silk cotton tree. Tliere a mortar, used to
grind cassava to meal, lay.
"Skin, Skin, come on!" they cried, and immediately their waiting
skins flew out of the mortar and gloved their raw bodies. They
dressed, but neither spoke as they traveled until they reached the
"parlor." There Auntie Gratsa was waiting to make hot cocoa for a
weeping Merle and her mother.
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
As the sun rose over the mountains east of Port-au-Prince, Mistress
Erzulie rose from the waters of Gonave Bay. Below, in a subterranean
cave, one of her three husbands, the sea god. Lord Agwe, had but
just fallen asleep. She had departed without a good-by to avoid the
sad eyes he would surely have, but leaving him was necessary. Fish
and seaweed, no matter how delicately colored, how varied, were
in the end a bore. She longed for some amusement, perhaps one of
her otlier husbands or mortals— yes, perhaps mortals, their frank
smiles and their outlandishness; she could even bear their tears.
As was her fashion she traveled on the wind and, feehng languid,
she did not command it to set her down at any destination; she
drifted. Long, watery stays below the air were damnation to a
coiffure and she busied herself putting her hair in order. She tucked
her mirror between her knees and combed algae, kelp and frag-
ments of coral that adoring fish were wont to decorate her with;
she kept Lord Agwe s coral combs and his effusive gifts of pearl;
they suited her gauzy blue and green dress.
The south wind landed her on the wharves of the city before she
had quite finished her toilette and for some time she sat on a jetty
arranging a curl, applying a touch more black to the edges of her
brows, adjusting the flutes of her turban, the numerous little per-
fections that were the marks of the goddess of love.
Once satisfied she walked through the open market place where
the busy world of men was at its height. She longed for a ceremony
in her honor, a huge one; she longed to possess some little mouse
of a girl so that she might show herself to these men. So many were
about and among them the handsome ones, all male in muscle and
bone, in their swaggers and rough talk. Not gods certainly but charm-
ingly male. The whole idea of men was a delight and, coupled v^th
her joy, was a sadness: they could not see her. The Creator had or-
dained it so and man saw only his world; occasionally a god could
show his face in it but always and only through possessing the body
of a mortal. Though sad, it just— was.
At eleven in the morning there was undoubtedly no priest who
would summon her. By rights she should be sleeping, nestled in some
god*s arm. But not today, she thought. There was some restlessness
in her that needed satisfaction. She fanned and wandered, feeling
now and then an unsetthng suspicion that the world of mortals was
being transformed by some other power into something else; perhaps
progress was the word they would use. But they smiled less now that
they had more coin. Such bustling! Were the poor tin centimes worth
all the frowns, all the energy, when it would be so gay to dance and
lay in cool shade and fan? The city seemed dustier and grayer than
she had ever remembered it, the sun so hot and heavy that the
breeze warmed instead of cooled. She fanned and wandered aim-
Drifting along the main square, the Champs de Mars, she lifted
her eyes to the mountains. They rose in pale greens and dusty lav-
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
ender blue above the city. A few of the heights showed the white
flecks of buildings or the scar of a road and high up a lumpy parcel
of clouds was spilling over the peaks.
She took the wind and moved up along the thickly populated
ridges, over the town of Petionville, past little gatherings of houses
and the lumps of tourist hotels. She paused farther along near a
vegetable plot tilted on the steep slope of the mountain to listen
to a young farmer sing of the fabled Choucun. The old melody was
lovely, but it was a man's song; they had lowered her to the level
of a fancy prostitute. Any woman knew that the sweet child-woman
Choucun was not unfaithful. Surely only a goddess could be more
faithful, she thought, and she drifted up until the air was cooler; the
sun cleared and the scent of pine trees was spice in the wind. This
was the Haiti she loved; up here it was still a land of her admirers;
the carefree blood was yet to be refined to purposes.
In the town of Kenscoff she settled on the top of a stone wall
and amused herself by watching the parade of people who went
to and came from the market place. On a hillside numbers of women
and sadly only a few men had set up their stalls. Tliey screamed
and giggled, swore brash threats, and hawked their vegetables, fruit,
and wares. A skinny white horse had shied at a passing truck and
had stepped into a pan of small breads. The vendor was screaming
oaths and the man who led the horse was cowering before her.
Numbers of vendors gathered and joined the argument, each giving,
as loudly as possible, solutions, new oaths, and suggestions for rescu-
ing much of the smashed bread, ways to restore the poor horse to
proper health, and some just laughed and hopped gaily.
Mistress Erzulie dropped down nearby to share in the fun. How
marvelously the mountain women enjoyed little catastrophes. The
bread vendor was weeping now in perfect anguish and having a
magnificent time. Mistress Erzulie's heart warmed to her; however,
she found the man, thin as his horse, a disappointment. Whv didn't
he hit her? The woman would, Erzulie knew, cherish the blow.
Gradually it became apparent that the bread vendor could only
scream and weep; it had looked for a time that she might be able
to give a few good piercing shrieks, but obviously not. Erziilie's eye
wandered for new treats. None of the men was quite handsome
enough for any real delight and since they stayed so close to their
wares there was no promise of tlieir getting into the argument.
She wandered up the road, enjoying the cool and the deep fresh
greens of the mountain foliage. Near the public water fountain a
cluster of women chattered as they caught the thin streams of the
spigots in their cans. Beyond, standing in the center of her tins of
flowers, a young girl stood solemnly waiting for a customer. Erzulie
felt a shock: even in the city she had not seen such a mournful look;
it was contrary to all the laws of nature. A smile on the girl's face
would make it lovely, she knew, and Erzulie was somewhat mystified
why such a distortion should be allowed.
Long ago the goddess had expressly forbidden herself to peek into
a mortal's thoughts; there one could always find so many untidy im-
perfections that saddened, even sometimes a blasphemous lack of
belief in everything she knew to be true. On several sorry occasions
even she. Mistress Erzulie, was dishonored in the wanderings of these
mortals* minds. But sometimes she had to digress, for a moment, a
little peek. As always she promised beforehand not to be shocked
by squalor and, full of curiosity, she hovered over the girl and ex-
amined her mind.
For some time it seemed impossible to believe; Erzulie listened,
shocked and touched by the girl's thoughts. Once the problem be-
came clear the goddess was taught again that men were full of flaws,
and women, even worse. The girl was to be married to a man she
didn't love, didn't even really Hke, and for nothing more tlian grati-
Mistress Erzulie withdrew; whatever the emotions of gratitude
were she couldn't force herself to imagine. What was given should
be received more graciously, a little smile and perhaps, at most, a
kiss were enough. Should the giver expect a greater return he de-
served only contempt. There was so much these sweet httle mor-
tals must learn, Erzulie thought, and she turned away, paused for
a moment to admire a huge gold-colored dahlia, and no sooner than
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
she was about to take to the wind a long automobile screeched to a
stop. Nothing would ever induce her to approve of automobiles; they
were so chokingly smelly and noisy. She turned to deliver a frown.
A tourist lady had gathered up a whole tin of flowers and she was
digging in her purse for money and crushing the bouquet. Erzulie
only noted that she wore trousers before her eye caught sight of the
flower girl smiling. Oh, such a smilel Teeth of perfection, and how
lovely her bright eyes were.
Erzulie hung poised in indecision; help the wretched waif or not?
It was exactly what she had promised never to do— but such a
smile deserved more. And, weary of her rampant, unkillable senti-
mentality, she settled near the girl and Hstened to her mind working
in quick, nervous httle starts.
And while she listened Mistress Erzulie filed her nails and re-
arranged her jewelry. Tlie poor child's story was worse than she first
thought: it wasn't even gratitude to the man but to her grandmother.
The gentleman in question was rich, not really by any decent stand-
ards; he owned some forest land and a good flat piece of farm. He
had a truck and seven mules; no one in the whole area had as many
pigs or chickens. Grandmother, who seemed to be called Bousuet
and sometimes Grande, was expecting to share this wealth in her
old age, and the girl was expected to make this possible by accepting
him as a husband. Selling a girl! Africa all over again. Obviously
Grande was an old shrew; she harped on the debt owed her, her
sweat, her work, her hunger to raise the child. The tiresome tale of
the agesl Why were mortals still being taken in by it? A discouraging
lack of plain good sense. My dear, just say no, Erzulie advised, then
ask the old woman if she has never gotten pleasure in caring for a
child. A little courage is all that's needed.
Not five minutes later Mistress Erzulie realized that such advice
would be fruitless. Even she had no reserve of faith when there was
no one to love her, when mortals were lax in giving ceremonies in
her honor, when her husbands were occupied in their work. How
many days of sick emptiness had she, herself, felt over tlie ages for
A Goddess .
want of love. And she sighed, knowing that love takes two creatures,
at least two.
After a great deal of prodding she found that the girl was called
Bashiba; the man of wealth, one Monsieur Dufresne. Earnestly me-
thodical, she spent most of the early afternoon in a rum house to study
him; it was necessary, indeed, only fair. To her great surprise he was
young and not at all bad-looking. There was a certain coarseness
in his form and this attraction was supported by good manners. He
played cards with a group of men, slightly older and obviously
poorer, and it seemed that he was quite a man to beat. The others
let out loud catcalls when rarely he lost a hand of cards and with it
a little pile of ten-centime pieces. Had he been less a catch Mistress
Erzulie might not have stayed so long watching him. Everything
would indicate that only an idiot would be unhappy as his wife. But
it was plainly too easy, on the surface, too obvious.
Near the point of utter weariness Erzulie, out of impatience, pre-
pared to peek into his telltale thoughts, but a little gesture stopped
her; it gave a clear indication of his character. He took out a thin
Cuban cigar and a knife; with an utter preciseness he cut the cigar
exactly in two and lit one half. The other half was then carefully
tucked away in his shirt pocket.
Erzulie bolted. Monsieur Dufresne was transparent so far as she
was concerned; his dinner, undoubtedly, was taken at exactly seven;
at any given moment he could tell, to the centime, exactly how much
money was in his bank account. The poor girl who married him
would rise at same time every day and receive the proper kiss every
parting and return. In the night of one ceremonial day a week he
would administer precise, earnest love-making to chill her bones.
For some time she sat in a mango tree and wept, not for the girl
but for herself, so many times disappointed. Too often her love,
lavishly given, was wrenched and hurt by the adored's coolness. Men
and gods, both, had tried to match her ardor and too many times
they failed. There were cruel imperfections in the universe that
could sadden even a goddess. She wept as she always did; every-
A Goddess .
thing ended in tears. And she would weep so long as there was a
world outside of paradise. Sniffing, she descended witli a determina-
tion that she would give a gift to the girl and it would be love.
After three hours of feverish searching among the travelers on
the road she had found no suitable young man. There were several
glorious men, but Erzulie, personally, couldn't condone a match
that gave a man ten years more experience tlian his wife. The mar-
ried or otherwise attached men seemed to be in numbers. A really
fine-looking young man was rejected when, during her examination,
he thought too fondly on how to seduce his father's mistress. Erzulie
knew perfectly well that men were put together differently from
women and that the desire to seduce was their paramount dream,
but there were limits nonetheless.
She returned to the girl in the late afternoon sun, feeling put out
that her lightly given gift was turning into a task. But while she
had been so busy in her search the girl had done rather nicely. A
strapping young man in a flawless white suit was helping her load
her donkey v^th the empty tins. Only a few flowers were left. Evi-
dently business had been brisk. It was the encouraging marvel of
these mortals: they managed.
Mistress Erzuhe was so excited by this unexpected event— and
grateful— that she was determined to reward the girl's resourceful-
ness. With no hint of indecision she pounced on the young man's
mind. His thoughts were perfection; he was as interested in the gen-
tleness of her eyes as he was in her high young breasts. Very nice,
Erzulie thought, a good balance.
Rather shyly, as they traveled up to the crest of the mountain,
he told her about himself: from up north, Cap Haitian, taking a
job with an American firm down in Port-au-Prince, magnesium.
It's a metal? Used in an alloy? There's a test, Bashiba, Erzulie
The young girl astride her donkey was reacting perfectly. She was
honest; she didn't know what an alloy was. She could afford to be
honest; indeed had to be; this young man was no fool.
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
An alloy's a mixture of metals? Erzulie laughed in delight. How
amazing it was, these mortals were always mixing things and, tired
of old mixtures, they invented new ones. She drifted along listening
to their talk and watching them turn shy glances to each other that
leaped to fierce naked stares for the moment before they looked
When they reach the crest of the mountain they will both know
their love, Erzulie decided, and she stretched out comfortably on
the breeze to listen further.
The young man was named Claude Jean-Louis, here to visit his
father. It seemed that his mother had gone off to Cap Haitian with
another man, a younger man who did very well indeed, considering
the fine clothes the boy wore. His father, when old, had married
his mother, barely sixteen, and by Erzulie's rough calculations the
union had lasted eight years. Or until one day when she packed her
clothes and her son's and went north with the young man who had
employed her as a maid.
It was further proof of Erzulie's contention; age and youth ended
badly when tied together. The rare, few exceptions existed only to
prove the rule, the Creator's keystone of logic.
Now he was returning for the first time; his father expected him;
a letter had gone before. Monday next he would go back down the
mountain to Port-au-Prince and his job.
When questioned Bashiba said only what was true: she was seven-
teen, she sold flowers, her parents were dead, and she lived with her
grandmother, that was all. And, considering the attentions Claude
Jean-Louis gave her, it was enough.
Where the road parted, sliding away on one hand rock and dirt,
the other neat asphalt, Bashiba reined in her donkev and asked the
young man if he wanted her to show him exactly where his father's
"I know where it is. I remember perfectly," he said.
''You didn't seem so sure before." Bashiba smiled wryly.
"For a moment I was confused. Well, I was not entirely trutliful,"
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAIIOMEY
Bashiba smiled eagerly and then, thinking better of it, she became
shy. "Good-by," she said.
"I'll see you again?" Claude asked with a serious frown.
"I sell the flowers at the same place every day, even Sundays,**
she said, and she put her heels in the donkey's ribs. Down the dirt
road she joggled, turning to wave and smile. Erzulie hung over her
to smile and Claude Jean-Louis went on his way, swinging his httle
black suitcase in great arcs and whistling.
When Bashiba arrived at her ti caille, shabby in palm thatch, its
once-whitewashed mud-brick walls imcertain, the gallery leaning
on termite-subverted posts, she tied her donkey to the tamarind tree
and pulled the panniers of flower tins off its back with a clatter.
Erzulie had been pleased with her smiles and her high-pitched
singing all along the dirt track; now her face was slowly assuming
its former gravity.
"Bashiba? Girl? That you?**
A frown appeared on the girl's face and Erzulie with pursed lips
settled near the gate to study the martyred grandmother. She came
tottering onto the gallery; a rough white cotton dress hung from
her spare shoulders, limp but white, no shoes, and her old head
bound by a red rag. From under this makeshift turban basil leaves
were hanging out, an attempt to treat her chronic headaches.
Erzulie was not sympathetic; though she was not subject to mortal
ills she knew that at most a headache was just the result of rubbish
and foolishness rotting in the mind.
Grande Bousuet was a pock-marked ruin; her gray-black skin was
sun-dried, worry-creased, and sagging with toothlessness. It was
certain, Erzulie thought, that the god of death was lax in his work;
Baron Samedi had overlooked this creature too long. She made a
mental note to mention it to him.
Tlie ancient woman held onto a post and greeted Bashiba with a
"You ain't feeling better?" Bashiba asked.
"It's my head today. Hurt? Girl, it's a whole fat horse sitting on top
it feels. But the pain on my heart is not so much today."
"Your back better?" Bashiba asked perfunctorily.
"Oh no, the harm done there is permanent— but I'm used to it by
now. You have a good day?"
"Yes, a tourist lady gave me a ten-gourde note and would not take
Bashiba unstrung a small cloth bag from her neck and handed it
to the old woman. Grande Bousuet slid out the coins and bills, count-
ing rapidly. Mistress Erzulie noted that she wore tliree gold brace-
lets on her wrist: in the mountains a peasant's fortune.
"Oh, by the bye, Bashiba," she said with a forced casualness,
"—now you promise me this minute, no back-talking— Dufresne
came by in his truck for a chat."
Bashiba breathed deeply and went into the house; her grand-
mother scuttled after her through the two rooms and into the back
yard. She called as she went, "He's going to give a small party at
his house on Sunday— to announce the marriage."
Bashiba bent down to a bubbling pot cooking over a charcoal fire;
she leaped up and went to the house and shortly reappeared with
tin bowls and spoons. Grande Bousuet watched with a frown.
"You hear me?"
"Yes," Bashiba said as she ladled out portions of goat stew.
"You'U need a new dress . . . People of his class don't visit in rags.
It means," she sighed, "111 have to get some cloth . . . White would
"Grande, I have a white dress and it'll do well enough."
"Well enough! I been studying it tlie whole day and it does show
"We don't have foolish money," Bashiba said wearily.
"Young woman, you don't need to yawn in my face! Just you count
your luck and thank me that you got any."
MISTRESS ER2ULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
Her head hanging, Bashiba ate from the tin bowl balanced on her
knees. At length she looked up. "Come and eat before your food
grows cold," she said.
Grande Bousuet settled on a low stool and sniffed; she plucked
a piece of meat from the hot broth and popped it in her mouth.
Then carefully she set the bowl on the ground and turned her back
to dry a few tears on her sleeve. Bashiba went to her and touched
her shoulder, "Grande . . . Grande . . . come smile."
"Worked all my life," the old woman whimpered, "and never got a
thank-you-kindly from no person except strangers."
"Grande, I don't love him."
"It's plain to see the women in my family is all cursed with love.
Love! Your mother was, your aunts, your great-aunt— even me. I can't
see one that didn't come to sorrow early and weeping by it." She
drew in a snort of breath and sucked her lips. "It may be hard to
see now but I could of married high up— but being a fool to love
I stayed down."
Mistress Erzulie, who had settled on a comfortable branch of a
tree, yelled down a sarcastic "Bravo!" for the old woman. She longed
to know what age felt like to a mortal. It undoubtedly had the power
to make them forget youth's warm blood and sweet dreams; to-
morrows became for them lifetimes, not the next day, the marvelous
tomorrow. Was it the thing called fear?
She drifted off the branch, passing over the sweet air of the flower
beds, and left them; the night was for visiting, a husband or one of
the other gods who would make her laugh or mortal's ceremonies in
her honor, perhaps all of them. Too close a look at mortals alwa\s
made her feel squeamish, oddly displeased, as if their cmde smells
and frailties were cHnging to her. Tomorrow would be soon enough
to see; there was time.
But then as she drifted she thought, Not for 77iortah, there is never
enough time. So soon the lips of Baron Samedi would open and
the death god ate them all. And, sad that the correction of such a
flaw was not in her domain, she wept as she drifted.
A Goddess . . .
The next morning Bashiba set her tins of flowers by the road
aad went to fetch water from the fountain to freshen them. She
chattered with the women gathered there as they sorted and made
up new gossip. As she was rather shyer and more courteous than the
rest, they did not mention her marriage. Their varying degrees of
envy for her rich marriage were clearly in their eyes and it seemed,
this morning, that there was something else. The feeling that had
glowed inside her, that had kept her awake long into the night,
pressed in her chest and she felt that surely it must show on her face.
Mistress Erzulie was dozing nearby, rippling on a fresh wind that
was rapidly dispersing the morning fog. She opened an eye to watch
the girl returning with a tin of water balanced on her head and she
smiled. The cluster of women at the fountain also had their eyes on
her, some frowned. Bashiba, though childlike and grave of face,
swung her body like a woman. Even the too-full faded-blue dress
could not hide the flesh underneath now; the body swung its con-
tours against the cloth. An old man with a pack of charcoal on his
back paused to watch her and he too smiled.
Shortly after nine o'clock Claude Jean-Louis came down the road
at a brisk pace, to set Bashiba smiHng and to embark on a torrent
of talk about his father, his own father. ErzuBe spent no time listen-
ing; she rose up high into the wind and ferreted out Dufresne, going
along the road above the town in his truck. She promptly descended
and perched on his head. To the surprise of his driver, Ti George,
he asked to be dropped off at the village. "But you already say you
want to go to the city."
Dufresne turned only a cold glance to him and Ti George set
about some hard thoughts on losing this monthly treat. Coming
around a sharp curve, he slammed into second gear with a mumbled
curse, but otherwise he held his tongue. Had he not been with his
employer every minute of this morning he would have sworn that
the young man had fired some rum.
When Dufresne leaped down from the truck he set off without a
word of parting or instruction. He moved away through the stream
of tourists, vendors, and shoppers; some eyes caught sight of him and
there were hisses for a neighbor's attention and some smiles, the httle
ones smihng at the big.
When Bashiba and Claude Jean-Louis were in sight Erzulie simply
drifted oflF Dufresne's head, leaving him feeHng dazed and un-
certain. He slowed down when he sighted Bashiba and then stopped.
She was only vaguely the girl he knew. This bright-eyed, smihng
creature, her hands on her hips as she threw back her head to laugh,
shocked him; he realized that he had never seen her really laugh-
not since they had been poor children together.
He would have turned and walked away had she not seen him
standing there. Her face blanched and after a moment, during which
Claude Jean-Louis turned, she beckoned to him. There was noth-
ing to do but go to them.
Faltering badly, she introduced the two young men; they shook
hands and the three of them shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably.
"Your grandmother tell you about Simday?" Dufresne asked.
**Yes, she did," Bashiba said softly.
"We will announce our marriage then," Dufresne coolly explained
to Claude Jean-Louis. He hesitated, then continued, "It would give
me great pleasure if you would come. Monsieur Jean-Louis, any
friend of my intended is welcome."
Claude Jean-Louis managed to say the proper thank-you and
Dufresne turned back to Bashiba.
"I will be by your house this evening to discuss our plans." He
gave them a sHght bow. "Bashiba can tell you the way to my house,"
he said to Claude Jean-Louis, and after giving them another httle
bow he moved away, up the road.
There was more than one obvious smile for him among the sharp-
eyed vendors he passed and as if ignoring them he raised his thin
nose high over the envy of the have-nots. But it occurred to him that
only if things were settled this night could the usual avalanche of
scandal be checked; there was aheady more than a trickle of stones.
Claude Jean-Louis had watched Dufresne untQ he was out of
sight; his flurry of charms withered to a halting shyness. And this
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
reserve was no inspiration for Bashiba; her smile did not revive.
She busied herself offering a bouquet to a passing knot of tourists
though she knew well enough that these flocks of ladies in thin
flowered frocks, led by their single man, rarely bought.
"I hope your fiance didn't get the wrong impression," Claude Jean-
Louis offered. "At least, I hope I haven't caused you any trouble."
With a kind of fierceness she said, "No. We are not, as yet, even
engaged. He has no reason to question my friends."*
A piercing whistle and rippling of laughter came from the cluster of
vendors who sat across the road. Bashiba raised her grave eyes to
their smiles and they tumbled among themselves to gossip.
"I guess I should be getting on," he said without conviction.
Bashiba turned her eyes to him; her lips parted as if they would
curl into a cry, but over them were mounted the hard black eyes of
an anger. The vision flickered; it faded into a frown and she looked
away. With a fear she was warding off some heavily weighed longing
much like the childhood feeling she had had when death struck near,
when someone loved in tlie space of two days had laughed and died
and disappeared into the earth. But the feeling was more potent now,
When she lifted her eyes he had turned and was moving away.
Perhaps too quickly she hung over her flowers and hummed as she
rearranged them in an attempt to cheat tlie other vendors of the
sight of her tears. But they missed nothing.
Mistress Erzulie, sitting rather dejectedly in a tree, watched
Claude Jean-Louis leave. It was distastefully fascinating to her that
these mortals were incapable of once being clear and simple. Why
the men didn't fight she couldn't understand. The girl looked now
every bit as forlorn as she had before love and though Erzulie would
have liked to grant her a generous consideration she could not deny
that this girl lacked a real verve. Dealing with mortals was, sadly,
still a wearing trial. As she announced to herself, in her most solemn
voice, that she would give up the whole affair she knew perfectly
well tliat she wouldu't.
A Goddess . .
That evening on the way home Bashiba did not as usual urge her
donkey on; it would have been perfect if they had no destination,
just to keep moving away to nowhere. The idea of a journey into
that misty place where nothing, not even a god, was served to enter-
tain her. Unformed as it was, she had expected something sudden
and dramatically sure from Claude Jean-Louis. It seemed that he
was or should be bound to protect her.
And so it was with some expectation that she saw him waiting at
the fork of the road. She swung quickly off her donkey and moved
toward him in that way that a woman gives herself; the bones are
left free to swing the flesh.
Erzulie, who had spent the afternoon jostling Claude Jean-Louis's
instincts to the further defeat of the process of civilization, smiled.
His eyes furtive, restlessly checking the road, Claude Jean-Louis
said, "I must say some words to you, please."
Bashiba smiled and waited.
"We can't talk right here, already my father has heard that I am
. . . involved with you."
Bashiba's smile flickered, a frown poised in a delicate squint. ^Tou
know how people try so fast for trouble."
"Can we go to your house? Now?"
Bashiba's eyes widened and just as she was forming an oath to
precede a flat no, she swung about and said, "Yes." There was that
charming glimmer of shrewdness that gave women such a delight-
fully sleepy look, Erznihe noted. She lifted her hand mirror and set
her features to working imtil they adjusted to the same expression
and she vowed to use it on one of her husbands, perhaps the great
Lord Damballah himself.
Along the track Erzulie was tempted in her excitement to set them
flying on the wind, donkey and all, to Grande Bousuet's ti caille.
The fun should be delectable and it was with some diflSculty that
she resisted herself.
Some distance from the house Bashiba sighted her grandmother
in the road, waiting in front of her house. The old woman disap-
peared and shortly reappeared; Bashiba knew to get her useless spec-
MISTEIESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
tacles. All this time Claude Jean-Louis had not said a word; he
seemed to be deep in sorting his thoughts and fashioning sentences
he would never use. Bashiba slid off her donkey, touched his arm,
and smiled. Then she set upon him a look that held a demand.
"Oh, Bashiba, what will we do?" he said hke a moan.
She smiled broadly. "We will do what we can."
Mistress Erzulie stretched out prostrate on the air and laughed
deeply at the beauty of mortals. This lovely girl-woman had tooth
and claw to get her own; only now were they beginning to show.
Grande Bousuet tluough her nearsightedness had a bad moment
of confusion as they approached. At first she fairly screamed for
Bashiba, then she made out the form of a man beside her. The pos-
sibility that it might be Dufresne had its usual effect: she crooked a
knee as if she would swoop into a curtsy. But nearer, at the moment
she was sure that he was a stranger, she leaped forward in little hops.
Staring constantly at Claude Jean-Louis, she let out a tumbled
stream of Creole. "Dufresne was here, he told me everything, he
told me, everybody's talking, Bashiba. Oh and he's so good, he left
lovely dresses, one for me, and showed me the gold ring, Ba-
shiba . . ." Her eyes held on Claude Jean-Louis. "Who is he? Bashibal
Who is this man?"
Proceeding through her usual ritual, Bashiba tied the donkey to
the tree and pulled the tins from its panniers. "He's a friend of mine,'*
she said calmly, and she indicated the gallery and the door for Claude
Jean-Louis to enter.
Not once diu-ing her upbringing had Bashil^a shown even a fibrous,
less a strong, character; she was as pliable as cold grease. Only
now was she showing its slipperiness. Grande Bousuet had a moment
of rigid, openmouthed contemplation to form this judgment and,
feeling caught unawares, she charged into the house with her tired
nets ready to snare the girl back into submission A righteous rage
was uncontrollably the first to be used.
She found them in the back yard seated close t(\gether over earnest
whispering. Basliiba had before her on a mat their best, the enamel
A Goddess . . .
bowls; she was going to give him their food, tool Grande Bousuet
let out a screech of indignation.
"You Httle whore, sporting your secret man before my own eyesl
You got no shame?"
She advanced slowly, cautiously on the balls of her feet like a
stalking cat, her arms spread as if she would pounce. Bashiba rose
to meet her; even the old woman's rage faltered before the clear
gaze of the girl's eyes. And Bashiba smiled, not broadly, but with the
calm of her own secret.
But Grande Bousuet reinforced herself with a set of oaths and,
all scorn, directed them at the girl. Then she clasped her hands
overhead to whimper, "You simple-minded common slut, I hope he
pays you for your work."
Claude Jean-Louis rose to protest, but Bashiba placed a hand on
his shoulder and forced him back down on his seat.
"Grande," she said, holding her faint smile, "along with the dresses
what else did Dufresne bring you?" Grande Bousuet frowned her
confusion. "How much do you get for an unspoiled girl?"
The old woman came flailing; she let her blows fall in a fine show
of energy. But only a few struck before Bashiba had whirled behind
"I brung up a whorel" the old woman shouted for the neighbors
"How much do I bring in the bargain?" Bashiba yeUed back. "How
much? How much, Grande?"
Grande Bousuet hopped in a little dance of anguish and moaned
an extravagant grief that would have been the perfect embellishinent
for a wake. A small number of neighbors had hiu-ried out to see what
old Bousuet's latest calamity was; perhaps her multitude of aches
had attacked the brain. As they heard her prime oaths and saw
Bashiba looking as calm as stones they fancied that the old woman
was foaming at the mouth. A couple of the brave ones stayed to
see her go down on all fours and afterward they swore that they had
seen her lift up a leg and scratch her ribs as if for fleas.
MISTRESS ERZUUE FREDA DAHOMEY
"You killed me!" Grande Boiisuet screamed at Bashiba, and she
rolled over to stretch out in tPie dust, her hands folded neatly over
her bosom in the manner of a corpse.
Mistress Erzulie squirmed in laughter. No cosmic delight was half
so amusing as mortals posing and play-acting through their catas-
trophes. She gathered a laughing tear in a dainty blue handkerchief
and waited for some resumption of the fun.
Bashiba scurried about the pot of congo peas that had gone dry
and hissing. She grabbed a calabash of water and drenched the peas,
stirring the mess vigorously with a wooden spoon. Claude Jean-Louis
had not moved from his seat, nor had Grande Bousuet even so much
as rustled a finger, and when the pot was restored to its bubbling
Bashiba cast a weary eye at her. She lay motionless and for a moment
the girl was concerned. But presently the old woman's nose wriggled
industriously as she sought to dislodge a resting fly.
Without a word Bashiba motioned Claude Jean-Louis, all frowns
and worry, to follow her. They moved quietly away, past the flower
beds into a little copse of mango trees. Tliere they embraced for
the first time and without any formal declarations tliey planned
"The best thing would be to get along to Port-au-Prince fast," he
"Yes, I suppose so. Dufresne's richness has many friends and he
won't just sit down and cry."
"We best go right away. Come on over to my father's place and
we'll tell him."
"You need to get anything?"
"Well, no, but first, we best keep off the roads until late-late. And
I shouldn't just leave Grande in the dust be she fooling or not. And
should Dufresne not find me here when he comes he'd be looking
for you to find me."
Claude Jean-Louis frowned. "It ain't so simple."
"Best you stay out of sight until late and meet me someplace."
By the gates of the old wliite's flower farm down below tlie town
they planned to meet, each to be there by dawn. Claude Jean-Louis
had money for the httle pickup truck that served as a bus to Port-au-
Prince, so they would not be seen together until it was too late.
Bashiba led him to a footpath and told him the landmarks, the two
turns, that would lead him to his father's house without once cross-
ing a road.
"You will be all right? Would Dufresne hurt you?** Claude Jean-
Bashiba laughed. "I can put on the face I want. Don't worry but
They parted after an embrace and the warming of hands on each
other s flesh.
Mistress Erzulie, so proud of the girl, followed Claude Jean-Louis.
Of the two he was weaker; if there were a fight he would not see
the sense to run and in an unfamihar place he stood the most chance
of finding harm. It was a dehght for her to protect such a handsome
male; she drifted with her head near his and rehshed the fine form
of his grave face.
Bashiba found her grandmother sitting over her bowl of congo
peas, lost in thought. The old woman started as she caught sight of
the girl svmiging into the yard. No word passed between them as
Bashiba dished a bowl of peas for herself and sat down with a sigh
to eat them. Abruptly Grand6 Bousuet swung around to put her
back to the girl. "The fat's in the fire," she moaned.
"It wall bum out," Bashiba said calmly, and she rose and went
to the house.
She came out again carrying a black shawl and draped it over
the old woman's shoulders. The sky was growing a deep blue and
the magenta streak of a cloud lay over tlie rise of the hill. Already
dampness was moving in and the coals of the fire were glowing red
and ashen in the dying light. A moan that might have been a curse
or a thank-you came from the huddled form of Grande Bousuet;
she sat on her stool, hunched over in her most pitiable pose.
Bashiba wandered listlessly but carefully into the house and
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
kept an eye out the window as she arranged her shoes and her gold
cross in a corner on the floor. Over them she put a calabash bowl
to hide any sign of her preparations. Then she went to the front
of the house and waited on the gallery for Dufresne to arrive.
And as she waited she chose not to sort thoughts or plot or even
dream of tomorrow. A lassitude was upon her; she watched the last
light leave the edges of the mountains to reveal the red spots of
evening fires. Below in a field there was a snapping of women laugh-
ing and on the road dim figures passed; only the paler forms of their
clothes and the soft shufiBing of their feet gave away their presence
in the night.
And later, far up on the dirt track, Dufresne's truck signaled his
approach. Its whine and clatter rumbled to a halt where the cutoflE
road narrowed between two sharp ridges of rock to only a mule track.
In five minutes his footsteps would be in hearing.
Grande Bousuet came bustling onto the gallery with a tin-can lamp
of oil. It sputtered and smoked as she sat on a box plucking at the
wick until a clear flame appeared.
"What you going to say to him?" she asked.
"Nothing," Bashiba replied.
"He's heard a lot of tales you can be sure."
"Yes, some true and others not."
"Well, what are you going to do?" the old woman asked tlirough
her clenched gums.
"I don't have to do nothing," Bashiba said with a smile. "Nothing
Grande Bousuet gave herself over to sighs and just as she heard
footsteps on the track she whimpered, "Oh, it doesn't matter now. I'll
be dead before the night's done . . . over this shame. You killed me,
don't you forget it."
Bashiba rose as she saw two pale-clothed figures come down the
path; one paused a short distance from the house, Ti George ac-
companying the rich man among the poor. The other figure came
forward until in the feeble light of tlie lamp she saw that it was,
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
They exchanged pohte greetings. Without his usual inquiry into
Grande's health he seated himself rather stiffly on the only chair and
rubbed his hands together. Grande Bousuet was already clasping
lip over lip and daubing at a tear.
"I feel it's my duty," he began, "to tell you that a good number
of bad stories are being carried by the gossips. They concern both
of us and Monsieur Jean-Louis. I hesitate to trouble you but I feel
I must clear this matter up. As you undoubtedly understand my
position requires it. I hasten to say Tm sure you are innocent of
dallying with me as is said but, Bashiba, your . . . innocence has
allowed you to create a situation."
"Little people always laugh louder at a new big man," Bashiba
said, "but then, it's said, a big man can afford it better."
"A big man has his feelings too, new or not— and, I might add,
requires respect to stay in his position."
"For us little blacks the ways of your class is strange, most of us
live as we feel."
"There are things that— our class, as you put it, don't do. Against
my wishes you continued to go to the market place, you refused my
gifts of clothes suited to your new position, and I have been called
many things as the result."
"But Monsieur Dufresne, if I had always held to your wishes I
would now be your mistress, as you first proposed," Bashiba
countered with a smile.
"I have many times apologized for that imprudence and will again
if you wish."
"No, we little blacks do not as a rule get a church marriage. I did
not become any sort of vdfe to you only because I had not decided
if I wanted to."
"I might point out you have not as yet expressed your desires
"Oh, she wants this church marriage badly, I assure you," Grande
Bousuet put in.
"Madame, so you've told me many times, but for once let Bashiba
say her mind," Dufresne said curtly.
A Goddess . . .
"Bashiba, tell him how happy you are for it," the old woman cried.
"Monsieur Dufresne, you have a bargain with Grande for buying
me, that's clear. I think this bargain calls for an unspoiled girl and
the gossips question if I am such. It is my duty to tell you that even
Grande calls me a whore, so you can see why gossips feel free to
say it also. I have a love, it's true . . ."
Dufresne rose abruptly and for a moment Grande Bousuet raised
her arms in a gesture of protection, so cold was his look. "Monsieur
Dufresne, this silly girl . . ." she whimpered.
But the young man slowly raised a hand for silence and he went
down into the dark yard, followed by Grande Bousuet's cry. Bashiba,
now trembhng in a sudden fatigue, left the gallery and wandered
through the rooms to the back yard. She was filled with amazement
for her brashness, her ability to speak so coolly and carefully when
her heart had been high up and trembhng in her throat. And she had
For the space of several hours Bashiba sat in the back yard hsten-
ing to her grandmother's intermittent bursts of tears and she thought
on the strange ways of her head. For so long it had been a bowl of
shifting mist and this night it had gotten its first morning, its first
clear day. She examined the whole dark world in this light and she
thought of many things, once mysteries, that now were clear and
simple. A whole pantheon of fears crumbled and she had her single
purpose, Claude Jean-Louis and her love, bound like the halves of
a nut in one hull.
Near midnight Bashiba heard her grandmother pacing in the
house and she crept to a window to see if the old woman were
preparing for bed. A pile of cloth was on the table, black tangled
with white, probably the dresses Dufresne had brought. From around
her neck the old woman took her moneybag and carefully by the
light of the lamp she counted out a pile of gourde notes and American
dollars. She place the money on top of the pile and sighed.
"Girll" she shouted, coming to the window. Bashiba ducked her
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
head down and moved away across the dust. "Girl, you come in
Bashiba walked slowly to the door and entered, to give her grand-
mother only a questioning look.
^'You get your shoes and take your mat out on the gallery. You can
sleep there if you want but when I get up in the morning, I don't
want to see you nowhere around this house. I know many a girl
who'd leap to fill your place— and better too. You go live oS. your
"Grande, I never did one v^rrong thing."
"From where I stand I see it different and I don't want to hear
your lies— so shut your mouth up."
A rap at the gallery interrupted them. The old woman took up
the lamp and went forward. "Who is it?"
In a quick moment she reappeared wath Dufresne behind her.
"Forgive me for coming this late," he said.
"Your things are on the table, monsieur. I think you'll find I'm
honest, everything is there."
"I didn't come for that, madame. Keep everything. I only wish to
say that I'm sorry our plans did not work out and I beg you, Bashiba,
not to feel too hard to me. What I came for is to drink a toast to your
future. I had bought two glasses for us which I hoped we would
use on Sunday to . . . well, let me get them."
He hurried out to the gallery and returned with a bag. Out of it
he carefully drew two deep red glasses, one large and one small,
with milk-white stems and feet. He set them on tlie table and pro-
duced a bottle of champagne from the bag.
"If you permit me," he said with a smile.
Grande Bousuet's stiflBy composed face melted into a wattle of
lines and tears. "He's a saintl" she cried at Bashiba.
Dufresne shifted nervously and waited for a signal to go ahead.
Bashiba smiled and went to a box where she fished out a dustv dass.
"Grande will have a drink too," she said, wiping the glass with
her skirt. The bottle was popped and Dufresne poured.
A Goddess .
"I can't see no future for her." Grande Bousuet wept as she leaned
He shushed the old woman and put her glass in her hand; she
stared down into it with a teary, wistful smile. "A man I loved once,
so many years ago, gave me champagne to drink," she said, and she
When everyone had a glass in hand Dufresne said, "May none of
us have a bad bargain again in our lives," and tliey drank.
"It's late and I must leave," he said formally.
"Thank you, Monsieur Dufresne," Basliiba said.
"You might keep the glasses as a remembrance of me," he said,
and, giving a little bow, he went out.
Grande Bousuet wept profusely, muttering, "Fool . . . fool . . .
fool . . ." as she poured herself more champagne.
Bashiba took a moment bending over her mat; the wine was
strange to her, lovely and sweet, but it went to the head faster than
rum. She sat for a moment looking up at her grandmother, fuzzy in
the dim light. "Lay your shameful head down and sleep," she heard
the old woman say, and, feeling annoyed but drowsy, she tried for
a moment to catch the thing she was to remember. Then she passed
Odd scents were in the air; Mistress Erzulie had smelled them
on the wind for some time, a hocor was at work over his potions.
Somewhere down on the mountain Baron Samedi, bringing life and
death, moved. She heard the tapping of his cane, the sharp cry of
a child emerging into life, a widow's wail, and far away near the
Dominican border Damballah was setting out his thunder. Claude
Jean-Louise slept on a mat near his father; he tossed and grumbled,
smiled, and whispered dreams.
Mistress Erzulie drifted out, scouting the land around, and found
no one near. From as far as Cap Haitian to the north and the
mountains of Africa, east and south, she felt the insistent pull of
drums that summoned her to men readying ceremonies in her honor.
She sat on tlie night liigh over the house and spun, letting fly her
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
myriad of faces and forms, she divided and subdivided, letting her
images move out into the night, and in her left hand she held all
the threads that bound them to her primal face. This face she kept
on the house below^ and it sniffed the air. She felt uneasy, some part
of things v^as wrong.
Commanding a breeze to rush her in a gale, she shd over the
ridges and settled at Bashiba's v^^indow. There it was: the girl's spirit
struggled on the end of the cord that tied it to the body. Grande
Bousuet squatted in a comer cooing over her glass and the cham-
pagne bottle lay on its side precariously near the edge of the table.
From Bashiba's body and the small red glass the odor of a bocors
potion was rising; the spirit of the girl fought to escape it.
Mistress Erzulie settled on the old woman's head; her body rose
abruptly and scurried out of the house into the yard. The old woman
moved like a girl as she ran past the flower beds, up a path, and
into a thicket of growth. Ripping plants out by their roots, she
gathered them in her arm and ran on. In damp places she took moss,
in a pasture she plucked little white flowers from a spiny bush, and in
a grove of trees she stripped a sapling of its branches.
When she returned to the house she dragged an iron pot from
under the table and, setting it on the earth floor, she set upon the
pile of fohage, stripping bark and plucking leaves, paring roots and
adding them with the flowers and water to the pot. She took lavish
handfuls of precious charcoal and went into the back yard. With
the use of three matches and much fanning she got a good fire
going and the pot boiling. She sat on a stool and waited.
Before the dawn she tipped the pot and poured a tiny trickle of
liquor into the bocors glass, then she went into the house and to the
girl. Weak with its struggle, the girl's spirit lashed limply over the
body and as the old woman poured the liquor into the girl's mouth
the spirit rippled, drew upon its cord, and sank slowly back to its
Grande Bousuet went out into the yard and carefully cleaned the
pot; she buried the soppy mass of its contents in the earth and she
drenched the fire. And when she had put everything in the house
A Goddess . .
in order she lav down on her mat. Mistress Erzulie drifted off her
head and tlie old woman slept.
A fast little gale moved Erzulie in the dark before morning as she
woke Claude Jean-Louis. His father rose and embraced him; laugh-
ing proudly, he set him on his way.
Rushing back, Erzulie took great care to wake Bashiba slowly and
upon her forehead she sealed a kiss of luck. The girl, worried about
the hour, hung over her grandmother for a time, wanting to say
good-by but she felt oddly weak and didn't dare. She took up her
shoes and the gold cross and moved toward the door, then she
returned and carefully wound the cross and its chain in the old
woman's hand. Then she scurried off, her shoes slung over her
shoulder and her straw hat on her turbaned head.
Erzulie accompanied her as she skirted the village and long after
the dawn she reached the iron gates of the old white's flower farm.
There in the shade of a coffee tree Claude Jean-Louis slept on a
stone wall. She sat down, fanning him with her hat, until, at length,
he awoke. They laughed over her lateness and she sat to put on
her well-worn shoes.
"They don't seem fitting for a wedding," he said. "I guess we best
find some new ones first."
Bashiba turned her eyes on him in a look of surprise. "Are you
going to marry me?" she asked.
"But of course!" Claude Jean-Louis said, and they fell to laughing
like children, hanging on each other while they waited for the bus.
Mistress Erzuhe laughed too and drifted back uphill, unsure if
she should lay curses or leave well enough alone. The laughter of
the lovers faded as she traveled; she moved high up, above the
village of Furcy. Below her a church bell rang and without warning
a quick wave of anger struck her; its taste was bitter and as it passed
a weariness came. The girl, Bashiba, and her Claude Jean-Louis
would never know that she had been with them; once she would
have given them a sign but no longer.
The gods of Africa are dying and we know it, she thought. They
did not end like mortals; the gods do not lose immortahty, they lose
MISTRESS ERZULIE FREDA DAHOMEY
their people and so lose their power. In Lord Damballah's domain
new gods were working and the mortals harkened to them too.
We have built kingdoms, she wept; I, myself, have feasted from
the sacrifices of a thousand tribes. I have brought love, and mortals
Mistress Erzulie held her head high and swallowed her tears.
Other gods had gone before, whole pantheons of them. She had
seen their speechless shades in the frosty air of high mountains and
in the dark of the sea. Some had not one soul to remember their
rites and even the names of others were no longer known on the
Tonight, she thought, I will send forth a thousand faces and
images to possess mortals and so represent myself to them. Tomorrow
I will send them out again, but less. Next week, next year, there will
be fewer still until the day that mortals call no more and that day,
in the weakness of neglect, I will stretch out on the v^dnd and sleep
forever. Only mortal fools struggle with fate; gods accept theirs in
good grace for they cannot know fear. The Creator has ordained
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